Rebecca Ferguson And Jake Gyllenhaal’s LIFE Is Better Than You’d Think

Posted by April 10, 2017 Comment

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The crew of the International Space Station retrieves a probe returning from Mars completing a mission to return soil samples as well as the first proof of life from beyond Earth. Things go from bad to worse as their experiments take on a life of their own.

//LIFE - Mondo poster //c. tasdasd
//LIFE – Mondo poster //c. Tomer Hanuka

LIFE is a taught sci-fi horror/thriller that you should definitely try to catch at the cinema. Whilst (like any slasher flick – which this really is at the core) you know what’s coming, once it locks in the tension you’re basically strapped to your seat.

There’s definitely some predictability involved in this film, but I’m not sure that it exists for the reasons that most have claimed. For me the predictability comes from familiarity with the genre, not with subject matter. I also don’t think that it’s relevant, and in a way it’s OK. I had a clue what was coming (100% knew who was going to die first – you’re kidding yourself if you think no-one’s dying in this) and yet, each death has an impact, it means something. Not for shock value, but for character value. Jump scares work, too, but that’s because: AHH!

It’s those characters that are a good focus, though. I initially thought that I didn’t care for the characters due to scripting and performance reasons, but I was lying to myself (aka: wrong). Obviously there’s that previously mentioned ‘slasher’ process at work in the film, and that’s what’s obvious, the genre. I agree that Bill suggested that there could be a little more knowing in that regard, however there’s also the opportunity to do it well without an ironic take. Perhaps even the nature of being pure to itself is enough of a nod in that regard. Suffice to say, I’m not going to spell it out for you, but just work through what usually happens in any film where a crazed, knife wielding, psychopath, drives through the film. Our facehug Alien here is that knife-man, a virulent force of nature for everyone involved.

That’s why I was wrong, I did care for what happened to the folks on screen. You’re looking at really rather deft character work by everyone on screen, but it has to be succinct due to the run time/tension requirements, so casting was key on that. With absolutely no disrespect to either Ryan Reynolds or Jake Gyllenhaal , me telling you that they are probably a little typecast might not make you raise an eyebrow, but it works as a shortcut, and even helps. The playfully funny one (I’ll let you guess whom) and the detached loner are certainly within their wheelhouse, but it’s their integration as a team that’s the important part of it. The majority of these characters have clear bonds, and the interplay is purely natural, so none of the casting smacks you in the face, and (in their case) gives a shortcut to their characters meaning less fleshing out is required.

The lunch and baby scene is a great example of this, in that you’re at home with everyone on screen, and we don’t have to spend time with all the principal cast to build relationships with them.

I’ve only just realised, that despite this being what it is, no-one is a bad guy at all. No-one, not even Calvin (really) is a bad guy, but of course the destructive path needs an entity to focus on.

So I was on the principal cast thing, and that casting shortcut is good, because we can spend longer with Ferguson, Bakare, and Sanada (who are the real leads). Rebecca Ferguson is solid here as Miranda North, the safe centre, that grounds everything, with a forceful nature that (even though not a caricature of a strict captain) lends weight to a role that really could’ve been one note in another’s hand. However, even more so than that was Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine‘s Shingen, whose layered journey there is never simple, either). Producing a character that you’re immediately drawn into as an emotional core to the team (perhaps with Reynolds in a way) everything Sanada does is vital to you caring for everyone. The love for his offspring bonds the team, but it also focuses Hugh’s relationship with Calvin as (I suppose) an obvious metaphor. But it’s Hugh, with an understated breakout performance (for me) by Ariyon Bakare, that really (perhaps with Ferguson’s intensity) commands attention. I’d not heard of Bakare before this, but the paternal involvement with Calvin is palpable and so real that, for a second, at the turning point of the film I was still relatively distraught that he’d lost his baby.

Still, keeping with the theme, all of that precise work by the cast helps as one part of a ridiculously tightly wound film. A lot of credit for that should obviously go to the director, Daniel Espinosa, for wrangling this, but also to Mary Jo Markey & Frances Parker in the editing bay for landing the tension at every level, and keeping something that could easily have slid on the tracks. There really isn’t a wasted second here. Even down to the jump-scares, although highly telegraphed, they retained their fright, which is a feat if you know something’s coming. The last time I remember feeling anything similar was Sam Raimi‘s Drag Me To Hell. I pretty much knew what was coming in every second of that film and it completely scared the living crap out of me.

The Alien influences are there, sure, but more so are the generalised slasher-horror elements. Once those click in, I felt that perhaps it allowed an easier read of the experience.

This is not a philosophical film.
This is not a philosophical film.

A quick note to the score: It’s perfect. A slightly longer note? I watched this on the “IMPACT” screen at the Cineworld Empire Leicester Square, and even through my loosely fitted earplugs (because: noisy people / food) it was an insanely assaulting experience. I genuinely thought I was sitting through another Jóhann Jóhannsson (Sicario) arrangement, but it turns out that Jon Ekstrand was the party (mixed by Jason La Rocca) that needs a lot of praise here, especially given that (together) they are probably responsible for 50% of the tension and fear that builds and erupts in this.

I can see some sense of an “Alien for beginners” to this, but I think that’s a good thing. Go see this at the flicks … and ask them to turn the sound UP.



Bill’s score and previous user reviews:

3.5 Reviewer
5 Users (3 votes)
BC Rating
The crew of the International Space Station retrieves a probe returning from Mars completing a mission to return soil samples as well as the first proof of life from beyond Earth. Things go from bad to worse as their experiments take on a life of their own.
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(Last Updated April 10, 2017 8:55 pm )

About Eliot Cole

A generally affable chap, happy to shoot it over a pint of proper beer (that's ale to some), I read basically anything, but I've found I'm now finally learning to love the small press / self-published scene a little more, even though I'm a newcomer to it. I'll finish this up soon.

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