“Gravity”, “Interstellar”, “The Martian” and “Passengers” are just SOME of the action movies that have taken us into Outer Space over the past 5 years. The latest is “Life” – a horror/thriller that was originally supposed to open Memorial Day weekend, but now gets to put a jolt in Spring.
Going in, I wondered why Jake Gyllenhaal, who since “Prince of Persia” in 2010, has chosen to avoid tentpole movies, decided to be a part of this big-budget “alien” film. It becomes clear, rather quickly, that “Life” is not your typical entry in the genre. Director Daniel Espinosa (“Safe House”) and the two screenwriters deserve a lot of credit for going against formula in what is a formulaic movie.
Gyllenhaal, Reynolds and Rebecca Ferguson (“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”) plays three of six crew members working on the International Space Station. Their mission is to examine specimens collected from the most recent expedition to Mars. The goal is to prove that there is, indeed, some form of life on the Red Planet. And they do! But then – things begin to go horribly wrong.
The intentionally tepid set-up allows us to get to know and like each member of the multi-cultural crew so that when the inevitable begins, you really feel the impact of their plight. The fact that I felt so much hate for the villain throughout the second half shows how much “Life” worked on me.
Unlike “Gravity”, the visuals are not the stars of “Life”, though the cinematography is passable. Most of the story takes place inside the space station, providing that nice, trapped, claustrophobic tension necessary to make a film like this work. And there are several intense and surprising moments that also fulfill the requirement.
Gyllenhaal is one of the decade’s most fascinating actors. [His Lou Bloom in “Nightcrawler” still gives me the chills whenever I think about that film.] And he delivers again here – as a doctor who enjoys being away from Earth maybe more than he should. He, Reynolds, Ferguson and the others all interact convincingly.
Without giving too much away, and that’s difficult with this movie, the title gets twisted on its head in multiple ways. And the finale, in terms of payoff, rivals the one in “Arrival”.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Life” gets a B.
Running Time: 103 min.