If you’re going to be derivative, you might as well emulate something great. Life bears more than a passing resemblance to Alien but skillfully captures much of that film’s horror and suspense, so it’s difficult to complain too much. It’s been almost forty years since Ridley Scott’s movie was released, so a fairly potent echo of it will almost certainly play with younger audiences.
Director Daniel Espinoza (Safe House, Child 44) brings a confident approach to this project. He shot most of it on two large sets, holding CGI in reserve for the depiction of his monster—a Martian organism that gets loose and wreaks havoc on the crew of the International Space Station. Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal lead a diverse, globally-sourced cast including Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Olga Dihocvichnaya. The savvy screenplay was written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, hot off their success with Deadpool.
With a score by Jon Ekstrand (a longtime colleague of Swedish director Espinoza) that follows the horror-movie playbook cue by cue, Life inspires every jump and shock it intends to, playing us in the audience like a finely-tuned instrument. Yet somehow the movie’s coiled spring loosens a bit in the second half as the story works toward its conclusion. Perhaps it’s the nihilism of Reese and Wernick’s script, which doesn’t paint a bright future for space exploration and scientific study.
Whatever the case, Life will give moviegoers the tremors and jolts they desire as it adds a notch to the résumé of its writers and director. But truth be told, it remains in the shadow of Alien, a tough movie to top, let alone equal.