dir Daniel Espinosa
scr Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
prd Bonnie Curtis, Julie Lynn, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg
with Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Olga Dihovichnaya, Ariyon Bakare, Naoko Mori, Camiel Warren-Taylor, Alexandre Nguyen, Hiu Woong-Sin
release US/UK 24.Mar.17
17/US Sony 1h43
Contain the threat: Gyllenhaal and Ferguson

reynolds sanada bakare
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Life This gritty horror thriller seems inspired by both Alien and Gravity, owing most of its best moments to them. And for what it is, it's also a lot of fun, throwing the cast into a series of enjoyably tense action sequences, with moments of melodrama and quiet emotion in between. The film never tries to engage the audience in any way beyond the suspense, ignoring subtext or character complexity for grisly thrills.

On the International Space Station, the six-person crew has just intercepted a probe containing soil samples from Mars. And science officer Hugh (Bakare) discovers life in that dirt, strangely intelligent single cells that work together to create a larger being, which school children on Earth name Calvin. Of course, it's not as docile as it seems. Doctor David (Gyllenhaal) and disease expert Miranda (Ferguson) immediately understand the danger, while Captain Kat (Dihovichnaya) does what she can to contain it with the help of engineer Sho (Sanada) and technician Roy (Reynolds).

The film is structured as a standard slasher horror, as the crew members are taken out one by one by the growing, changing jellyfish-like alien. Thankfully, the script tries to maintain a semblance of scientific integrity, and director Espinosa shoots everything with a clever sense of weightlessness. This creates an environment that doesn't have an up or down, which adds an enjoyable sense of disorientation to the whole movie.

The actors don't have too much to do beyond playing people who believe all of this is happening. Each is excellent at creating a specialist who knows his or her stuff, and there are hints of backstories here and there to add some emotional heft. But nothing goes very deep, and there's no effort to raise any political or social themes. Scaring the audience is the only goal, so the actors' chief task is to look frightened of what is coming next.

Espinosa keeps the story moving briskly, pausing here and there for some quiet exposition to allow the audience to catch its breath before the next onslaught of frantic nastiness. There are some corny touches along the way, including a couple of shots from the creature's point of view and the design decision to let Calvin develop a semblance of an evil face. But the effects work is very strong, and the plot spirals gleefully out of control in the style of a cautionary 1950s monster movie. For a bit of mindless fun, it's worth a look.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 21.Mar.17

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