Mars Attacks! A 60 Second Review of Life (2017)

“I know it’s not scientific, but I feel pure f**king hatred for that thing.”

From Daniel Espinosa, the director that brought us the underwhelming Safe House (five years ago!), comes Life: a horror, thriller, almost non-fiction-science-fiction movie that really nails its tone, despite dipping into the trope bag a bit too often. It’s clearly Espinosa’s best work so far (Swedish aside), but is it enough to put bums on seats at the cinema?

What I liked…

This is without doubt one of the most suspenseful, thrilling sci-fi films I have seen in years. It really helps to have great actors, but credit must be given to the way the film drags you through breathlessly leaving you little time to think, let alone compare its premise to Alien.

The casting is easily one of the highlights. A delightful blend of Reynold’s quipping, Hiroyuki Sanada frowning and Ariyon Bakare just acting the shit out of every scene. It is hard to know who the main character was and who would snuff it next. I quite liked that, especially as this also harked back to Ridley’s Scott’s classic.

Although the story doesn’t reach far beyond its premise, this kept the film contained and claustrophobic. Like an Outer Limits episode with good actors, the world below is kept at arm’s length, which makes the twists and turns that do happen that much more impactful. You won’t see everything coming either, you’re lying if you do.

Visually stunning. All the space shots look great, the alien looked good considering its digital basis and the sound design is not overbearing when it could have been. I am not alone in being reminded of Alien, which I think is a compliment considering how many movies have tried to replicate its visceral suspense and failed.

What I disliked…

Much of the criticism aimed at Life is that it heavily relies on tropes. This of course can annoy some people more than others, with doubters calling it a ‘clone’, and fans suggesting ‘homage’ is a more suitable word. Me, I would rather the film was good than original. If it’s both, even better. But considering it plays with the idea of what we might discover literally in the next couple of years, it is worth slapping on to a recognisable set-up that at least gets the blood pumping.

There are a few lines lines of unnecessary dialogue that would have been better served as silence. In typical  b-movie fashion, it would rather not lose the audience than assume its intelligence, which is a shame because it dumbs down the film at some crucial moments.

Some repetitive storytelling, one or two plot holes and a rather strange mix of character motivations.

Shapstik Verdict: There is a genuine edge of your seat feel about this film and there were a few squeaky bums in the cinema. Yes, it copies direct formulas, but then so did Pacific Rim, and that was awesome. I don’t think you need to deliver anything new to create the experience of being thrilled. Some films simply stick with you after leaving the theatre, this one did with me. It’s both familiar yet unpredictable and imperfect yet likeable. 7/10