LIFE is an intense sci-fi thriller about a team of scientists aboard the International Space Station whose mission of discovery turns to one of primal fear when they find a rapidly evolving life-form that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.
Directed by Daniel Espinosa and written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick, LIFE was produced by David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Bonnie Curtis and Julie Lynn; with Don Granger and Vicki Dee Rock serving as executive producers.
In no unsubtle terms, Daniel Espinosa's Life aspires to be the next Alien. Or at the very least, owes a great deal to the Ridley Scott sci-fi horror classic, practically mimicking the 1979 film both visually and narratively. From a script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Zombieland, Deadpool), the opening moments are deliberately slow and evocatively paced, drawing our attention to the individual personalities living on the International Space Station. Four of the six astronauts, in particular, are given a bit more screen time than the rest, starting with British biologist Dr. Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) and American medical officer Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) chatting about their reasons for being there. British quarantine officer Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) and Japanese pilot Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada) reveal themselves through their actions. The other two are Russian commander Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya) and arrogant, hot-shot system engineer Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), the latter of which is essentially in the spirit of Janet Leigh's role in Hitchcock's Psycho.
These first few minutes not only generate an air of melancholy mixed with a heavy sense of dread, but they also successfully draw the audience in. Espinosa smartly makes us care for them, to sympathize with each of the astronauts given what we already know of the plot and how badly things will end. Jordan stands out as a glum, disillusioned vet who has spent over a year on the station because he's weary of the horrors committed on Earth, but he expresses a feeling of belonging in space. Meanwhile, Derry morosely muses on a childhood dream come true that oddly feels unsatisfying, yet when in the presence of discovering extraterrestrial life, he's as giddy as a ten-year-old boy. North is a caring and attentive doctor from the CDC in charge of creating emergency protocols, which, of course, in movies, are destined to fail. Murakami just became a father, bringing Margaret Wise Brown's book Goodnight Moon into play, so it's easy to guess where his priorities will be when disaster strikes. Amid all these moments, Espinosa gives us scenes of the crew eating together, laughing and working in unison as a team, or better yet, a family.
It's this notable aspect of the movie I admit enjoying most, making it far more entertaining and satisfying than initially anticipated. Given the film's marketing campaign, I was expecting a traditional, straightforward creature feature — which, don't get me wrong, it most definitely still is. Only, it was a nice surprise to see that Espinosa didn't simply make his characters into the typical bumbling idiots disguised as smart scientists routine, à la Scott's Prometheus. These are people genuinely fighting against a lifeform that turns out to be shrewder and quicker in adapting for its survival than they are. But this is a clever creature that lulls the crew into complacency and trust before striking. In the face of this lethally malignant threat, the astronauts try to remain like the family we saw in earlier scenes, jointly fighting not only for their lives but for the existence of all life on Earth. It's a welcomed surprise to see Espinosa undermine expectations with characters that continue being the same people as before. When confronted with the likelihood of death, morality and compassion for others isn't suddenly replaced with selfishness and self-preservation.
Arguably, of most interest is the rumor surrounding Espinosa's Life as a possible prequel origin story for Sony's upcoming Venom film, set to release in October 2018 and starring Tom Hardy. Although the fan theory has since been debunked, it's nonetheless fun to imagine the alien creature, which is named Calvin, could be the same host-searching, shapeshifting symbiote that later attaches itself to Eddie Brock. The similarities are pretty uncanny, especially considering the film's twist ending further fueling fan speculations. But in either case, the thriller stands on its own thanks to Espinosa's patient eye allowing for the plot's drama to come through and unfold naturally as things escalate. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey's (Nocturnal Animals, We Need to Talk about Kevin) omniscient camerawork adds to the pacing with a thick air of apprehension permeating the happier moments. However, some of the character motivations and actions are somewhat confusing and left unexplained, but Life is nonetheless a fun straightforward creature feature without any delusions of grandeur or aspirations, outside of simply delivering a suspenseful tale of survival.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings Life to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD50 disc and housed inside a blue, eco-elite case with a flyer and code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy. After several skippable trailers at startup, viewers are taken to a static menu screen with the standard set of options along the bottom and music in the background.
First contact goes horribly wrong on Blu-ray with an excellent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode.
Shot digitally on the Arri Alexa camera systems, the picture is highly-detailed with superb clarity of the various gadgets, buttons, and machinery in the background. Although contrast levels appear deliberately restrained and noticeably muted, the 2.39:1 image remains comfortably bright with crisp, clean whites, allowing for great visibility of electrical wires, the threading in spacesuits and the tiniest vein in the little blob Martian. Black levels are slightly affected by the intentional photography, often looking somewhat murky and a dark gray, but shadows are nonetheless deep and penetrating without completely engulfing the finer details. Much of the palette is also limited, adding a creepy atmosphere, but colors remain accurate and fairly vivid amid the gloomy environment of the space station. However, flesh tones can be a bit of a hit or miss with actors sometimes looking sickly and flushed while at other times, appearing healthy with revealing lifelike textures. Overall, it's a great presentation.
Unfriendly contact between the Martians and Earthlings invades home theaters with a fantastic 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.
For a good chunk of the movie, the story features a good amount of silence, but this is related to how the characters are themselves living in an environment of peace and tranquility — before everything spirals into mayhem, of course. Still, the electrical humming and buzzing of machines are continuously heard in the background, however light and minor, providing the first half with a wide and spacious presence. A few of those effects bleed into the surrounds, but the system really comes alive when the creature escapes its confines and starts bouncing around the space station, panning from the front of the room to the back and vice versa with convincing directionality. Most of the time, atmospherics are spread across the front soundstage, and each racket and ear-piercing uproar is distinctly detailed without a hint of distortion during the loudest moments. Dialogue is clear and prioritized amid the hubbub while low bass delivers a powerful rumble to the action with explosions occasionally plummeting into the lower, wall-rattling depths.
Life: In Zero G (HD, 7 min): Cast & crew interviews discussing the challenges of filming as though floating in space and maintaining the illusion mixed with lots of BTS footage throughout.
Creating Life: The Art and Reality of Calvin (HD, 7 min): As the title suggests, the filmmakers talk about the design of the alien creature, speculate its motivations and being scientifically accurate.
Claustrophobic Terror: Creating a Thriller in Space (HD, 7 min): More interviews on the monster and how the backdrop and space station play an important role in generating suspense.
Astronaut Diaries (HD, 3 min): The cast still in character explaining their roles aboard the space station.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 6 min):
Jordan Examines His Stamp Collection
Adams Mending His Helmet
The Tang Breakfast Scene
Derry in the Gym
Adams' Body Is Placed inside His Pod
Sho and Jordan Talk
Taking inspiration from Ridley Scott's classic Alien, Daniel Espinosa's Life surprises with a well-paced and deceptively entertaining sci-fi thriller that features a good deal of drama and characterization at heart. With excellent performances all around, the film about discovering life in outer space plays like the typical creature-feature without also being hampered down by the usual genre tropes. The Blu-ray makes contact with an excellent picture quality and a fantastic DTS-HD MA soundtrack that nicely adds to the suspense. The supplements are rather light and frankly disappointing, but the overall package is worth checking out for fans and the curious.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.