MOVIE REVIEW: Life puts Alien’s Ridley Scott on notice
AMORPHOUS extraterrestrial aggressors have come a long way since The Blob (1958).
The scientists aboard Life's International Space Station cultivate their alien life form from a single cell - which they extract from a soil sample harvested by a Martian probe.
The translucent, squid-like organism evolves in movie-realistic time - fast but not too fast.
Perhaps that's why it feels so anatomically credible, at least within the context of the story.
Life's shapeshifting monster owes a debt to Ridley Scott's Alien - what self-respecting sci-fi creature feature doesn't - but as is the case with the best tributes, director Daniel Espinosa and his team steal rather than borrow.
They just raised the bar for Alien: Covenant which is scheduled for a May 18 release.
Life is a lean, mean, claustrophobic sci-fi thriller set almost entirely aboard the spaceship (the formula works, why mess around with it?)
Espinosa unsettles his audience from the get go - with the recapture of the aforementioned space probe which has been knocked off course by a meteor storm.
Roy Adams (Ryan Reynolds), the story's regulation space cowboy, successfully "catches" the probe in a daring space walk that utilises an automated arm. But the tension in the lead-up is palpable.
In contrast to conventional movie astronauts, this crew lacks bravado. Espinosa characterises his scientists as intelligent rather than invincible (and thus keenly aware of the risks involved.)
They harness their fear while still experiencing it. This makes them very relatable and leaves movie goers holding their collective breath for a good part of the film.
Since they are exceptionally evolved examples of humankind, these super-smart individuals rarely so much as raise their voices (there's none of the customary conflict between clashing characters stuck in a confined space.)
Disciplined, experienced and exceptionally well-trained, they follow protocol even the going gets really tough.
In this, they take their cue from their unflappable captain (Russian actress Olga Dihovichnaya).
Rounding out the small, select, multi-disciplined team are Ariyon Bakare's paraplegic geneticist, Rebecca Ferguson's risk management expert and Hiroyuki Sanada's communications and infrastructure specialist.
But Jake Gyllenhaal's character, Dr David Jordan, is the key that unlocks the story.
In a previous life, Jordan worked with the US Army building hospitals in Syria - which he then saw blown up.
Disillusioned by mankind, he now prefers the solitude of space and the company of an elite few.
He has no desire to go back to earth.
But Jordan is about to be brutally reminded that life and death are inextricably linked.
And that violence is part of the natural order.
Life is a superior B movie made by an A-list team.
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson.
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Verdict: 4/5 stars