Why did Jake Gyllenhaal trap Ryan Reynolds behind an air lock?
That was the question that drove me to see Life. Has Gyllenhaal gone space crazy? Is it to save his own skin? Is he the poison pill character in horror films? A criminally underutilized aspect of the marketing campaign typical to Sony is all over the place and spoilerific because the company never knows what to do with its properties. It’s dumb luck that Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, screenwriters of last year’s monster hit Deadpool and earlier in their career Sony’s Zombieland seem to have been chosen to write a space thriller and be particularly good at it. One genre’s work doesn’t always translate to another’s success but fortunately the writer’s cynical B movie attitudes engage what would be a pointless studio exercise into a real workout. If you were to identify what a movie’s mean streak is this would be it. There are queasy moments, some shock inducing and really horrifying elements stirred in here.
The movie’s scientists take their cues fortunately from The Martian and Gravity and not Interstellar. They are varied types with one Reynolds like Clooney’s cowboy or Rebecca Fergusson’s like Chastain cold headed and logical. Their shortcomings are from being human not movie scientist stupidity and when they are stupid, they pay for it dearly. They waste no time coming to the conclusion of killing the 👽 taking every precaution. Another great addition to the movie being its lack of pretensity. It doesn’t play favourites. Though that arguably works against it in having none of the characters beyond Reynolds the only one to have worked previously with the writers and director stand out. They all go through their fair share of emotions but drum up little in terms of great memorable performances. ‘How smart is this thing?’ one person asks, later making a plea someone correctly identifies as foolish, it seems she won’t like the answer.
The opening shot due to length and choreography is by far the most impressive. We’ve seen this before in Gravity and though here it is much more aimless and less clean, it’s still impressive. Steering you around the International Space Station director Daniel Espinosa wastes this knowledge to the audience rather than milking the geometry for its worth like The Conjuring. Instead it works as an example for the film’s constantly moving pace. Ryan Reynolds who worked with the director on Safe House and the writers in last year’s Deadpool is in his element playing a space cowboy type who cracks wise but also draws out some serious points about the Life on board. Out of all the actors in this film it’s no surprise him and Hiroyuki Sanada returning to space a decade after Sunshine seem the most like real people.
This movie was a bit of a surprise to me. In a way it admirably doesn’t portend beyond its genre like fellow B movie Mad Max and the mid budget event film shows the kind of movie its studio and director should keep working on.
Gyllenhaal’s character here seems like the biggest waste, he’s good here but there are elements of a more fascinating character underneath. There’s a sense I got when I first saw the trailer especially after viewing a film like Everest that its odd that both him and Reynolds of similar type would be in the same film. Does this movie have the room in an ensemble genre piece for two equally leading men? It’s a balance the movie doesn’t quite pull off but due to its weightlessness despite playing with big ideas, the speed at which it moves and genre familiarity it doesn’t drag the film down. I wish it success as a beacon for more original movies to come again. Here it’s been a long while since I’ve seen a good B movie. And through this post-Gravity Alien, Life isn’t shy about where it borrows from, its confidence, lack of pretension lends itself high impact to some decent unpredictable and horrifying scares.
‘The Life we know has its ups and downs, and sometimes when you take those away there’s surprise in not quite knowing what to expect.’