Monday 27 March 2017


Life Lesions

USA 2017
Directed by Daniel Espinosa
UK cinema release print.

Warning: Mild spoiler allusions about the end of the movie at the end of this review.

Hmmmm.... okay. When I first saw the trailer for Life a few weeks ago at the cinema my first thoughts were... “How come I’ve not heard anything about this movie before now? Were they trying to keep it a secret?” Which is not good, really, I would have thought, when you’re trying to publicise a new Hollywood movie. My follow up thoughts were along the lines that the movie looked like a pretty close rip-off of ALIEN but with nods to the ‘reality’ of films like Gravity (reviewed here) and with a few famous people in it. Strangely enough, when I got to the cinema and saw the thing, I soon realised I was watching a fairly close rip-off of ALIEN but with nods to the ‘reality’ of films like Gravity and with a few famous people in it. Woah, deja vu.

I guess with a film like Life you can at least say that it does what it says on the tin in regards to the minimal amount of marketing I saw and, I’m quite happy to report that it’s really not a terrible movie. On the contrary, it’s quite suspenseful and intense in a few sequences and that’s just what a scary movie, or at least something trying to be a scary movie, should be, right? Alas, it also has some problems too but let me just concentrate on the good stuff first...

That good stuff would be the central performances of the actors and actresses - Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Olga Dihovichnaya, Hiroyuki Sanada and Ariyon Bakare. They all do good work here and another plus sign for the movie is they are able to interact with an environment that looks pretty good on film. All the antigravity stuff works fine and looks credible.

The film’s alien ‘actor’ is also good. Named Calvin, it’s not the straight ‘homage’ to ALIEN that a lot of the movie ends up being and, although it basically looks like Flubber, it kinda works. Especially when it gets inside characters and causes damage from the inside... so the camera can linger on all that internal blood escaping through the mouth and floating around... which is kinda okay, although the first time it’s properly done it goes on forever and maybe outstays its welcome as an effect fairly promptly in the movie.

Jon Ekstrand’s score is equally good and appropriate to the action, helping the film create the tone it needs when it best needs it. I am awaiting a physical CD release which is not scheduled until May and I can only keep my fingers crossed that it doesn’t get cancelled due to critical or box office reaction to the film... which I believe has been fairly poor.

Okay... so that’s it for the good stuff.

My real problem with this was that the editing and sequence of events didn’t get enough coverage for me to be able to properly tell what was going on in certain scenes. For instance, I watched a character die and then 5 or 10 minutes later he was back without any kind of fanfare, just wounded. I had no clue but obviously the other characters did. Also, at one point, and I suspect this error may have occurred due to scenes getting chopped in the final edit (although I’ve no way of knowing so don’t quote me on that), I counted that there were, in fact, two aliens because there was no way the same alien could have been hiding where it does without being seen (or travelling through locked doors if I’m remembering correctly). So I assumed there were two of them to deal with after a certain point in the movie when, it turns out... no, there was just one. I think the way this was put together could have stood being made a lot clearer at certain points.

Thirdly... remember Star Trek - The Motion Picture (reviewed here)? Special effects like the ones seen in that film were still relatively new and the producers overcompensated for that by throwing in loads of ‘vanity shots’ of the effects, highlighted just to show them off in what are probably some of the more boring moments of any of the Star Trek movies. It was like the people behind the camera were saying “We spent a lot of money on these shots and you’re damn well going to enjoy them!”. Alas, I felt Life suffered from a similar, if not quite as extreme, propensity to linger on various effect shots which, frankly, I was not interested in and which slow down the movie... in this case, slowing it down in a negative way. The effects were great but I didn’t really need them shoved into my face at close range and that’s kind of how I felt certain things were being handled here, frankly.

Okay, lastly, the film has an ending which most people are going to see coming at least five minutes, if not more, before the film actually catches up to it. It was pretty obvious although, I have to say, it was a pretty nice ending and it almost makes the film suddenly feel like it’s been adapted from one of those old EC horror comics which got into so much trouble in the 1950s. It’s silly and schlocky but it’s also a kinda fun stab at an ending and... that’s almost a requiem description for the entire film, in some ways. A kinda fun stab at a movie which, maybe, is a bit obvious and doesn’t quite make it in some ways.

Life isn’t in danger of blowing anyone away, for sure, but it is a kinda entertaining horror movie, for the most part. It won’t make you think and it won’t haunt you afterwards and, like I said, it has some problems. However, if you are into sci-fi horror films it’s not that much worse than a lot of ‘straight-to-home-video’ releases of the 1980s and, as I’m sure you’re aware if you are into watching film, some of those can be a lot of fun. A not bad time at the cinema and I may even grab this one on Blu Ray once it’s done the rounds and drops below a fiver. There’s still plenty of room for ‘space horror’ in my life.

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