After proving to be more than capable in a number of different genres, Swedish director Daniel Espinosa delves into challenging sci-fi horror territory with Life. The story follows the studies of scientists aboard the International Space Station, on an explorative mission to find life on Mars. Led by Russian commander Katerina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), the crew consists of Dr David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), pilot Rory (Ryan Reynolds), quarantine officer Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson), engineer Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada) and biologist Hugh (Ariyon Bakare). The team are initially delighted by their groundbreaking discovery of a living organism, which is later named Calvin, but are soon put in danger when it rapidly grows outwith their control.
Despite unfolding within the vastness of deep space, there is an evident claustrophobic intimacy at play with only six characters involved in rather cramped conditions. This helps to provide a horror movie atmosphere along with disorientating camerawork as the lens whirls around to achieve the zero gravity effect. Once this tone is established, the plot doesn’t dare to venture into the unknown and instead traces the genre trademarks and goes pretty much where you would expect it to. Without the depth or emotional impact of recent works in the same field, the film struggles to make the most of its top-billing cast, but that’s not to say it isn’t well executed. There are frequent moments of absolute toe-curling tension, and the blood and gore is handled brilliantly given the environment.
Life is a satisfying throwback to survival science fiction cinema, and though it doesn’t do much to stretch the ever-growing boundaries of the expanding genre, it finds success in looking backwards rather than forwards. The cast seem to take joy in delivering dialogue from the clichéd script, with Jake Gyllenhaal giving yet another solid turn in his staggering run of form. Wearing its influences as proudly as the astronauts adorn their national flags on their sleeves, Daniel Espinosa has respectfully constructed an entertaining rip-off.