Written by: Daniel McDonald
Upon seeing the first trailer for Daniel Espinosa’s Sci/Fy – Horror feature, LIFE, I remembered him at the helm of some “unusual” projects (CHILD 44, EASY MONEY and SAFE HOUSE) but what really came to mind was the fact that he was in serious negotiations to direct ASSASSIN’S CREED but was replaced by Justin Kurzel for “creative differences.”
Kurzel – for the record – is generally known as a competent action/drama filmmaker, who has yet to discover his breakout film, which I’m sure many thought ASSASSIN’S CREED might become.
Happily, he instead was offered LIFE a big budget Monster movie starring Ryan Reynolds (who had previously done SAFE HOUSE with him) as well as Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and a small but extremely effective international cast of supporting entrees…uh …actors.
Prompting questions such as, why release an end of summer fun/scary/obviously large budgeted project in March, opposite LOGAN, KONG: SKULL ISLAND and for Gods sake a live action BEAUTY& THE BEAST? (I get it, niche marketing for a fairly nasty horror, sci-fy mashup with plenty of non-Fairy Tale qualities and an R rated “night away from the kiddies” crowd). Another question is why would Gyllenhaal and Reynolds (who, to be fair, got lots of R-rated critical and box office LOVE from DEADPOOL, and LIFE looks like it was a helluva lot of fun to make, but why sign on for a relatively unknown team of director (Espinoza) and writers (Paul Reese and Rhett Wernick)? To get the film made, which, for reasons I’ll discuss, seemed to need names attached for clout, and as I said, a young man’s cinematic “fancy.”
The fact that from trailers alone that ole “looks like ALIEN and THE BLOB and THE HIDDEN and XTRO and any number of this genre, but really well made, with two A-list Hollywood Hunks. I checked back (our library of reviews is very eclectic and worth a look!) and it seems I’ve dealt with this “de ja VIEW” issue before with a small, independent, Vicious Brothers project, a highly underrated EXTRATERRESTRIAL. Yes, it had many recognizable elements from other successful genre films, made for what was probably LIFE’s craft services budget. It had a look and feel of a much larger budgeted studio film and felt (to me) like paying successful homage to tropes we expected, not a thieving piece of uninspired junk, but done so well. I mean C’mon, a sci-fy film with an actual anal probe?!?
I had feelings like this throughout LIFE, but it’s done with a lot of technical advancement. The flick is unbelievably fluid, well-crafted in every way, with award worthy cinematography (Seamus McGarvey) that comes hand in hand with masterly subtle but absolutely spot-on editing (Mary Jo Markey, Florence Parker). Unique, specific, yet still fascinating and amazingly adaptable set design (Nigel Phelps), direction (Steven Lawrence), decoration (Celia Bovak); Top of the line costuming (Jenny Beaven). All in all, LIFE is visually stunning.
I’ve definitely got to praise the effects, as well. CGI, Practical FX (David Watkins), the marvelous Ann Schebeli give the shine of the A-list to every key aspect of this project.
The main thing I find fascinating about LIFE, is that even though I could remember the exact films that THIS film shares elements of and narrative with, Espinoza’s technical expertise, energy, ability to inspire, fresh, visionary risks of a nihilistic mixture of character humor, horror, science fiction, and tried and true thriller-ish high in tension, an almost “JAWS in space” winner.
The acting across the board is charismatic, strong and believable, especially Reynolds, who gives the vulnerable fear filled moments a true emotionality. Mr. Gyllenhaal is a square jawed hero’s hero. Rebecca Ferguson has the essence of, but does NOT imitate or even try to evoke Sigourney Weaver’s Ridley in any way, shape or form. Hiroyuki Sanadra, Ariyon Bakare, and a stellar Olga Dihovichnaya do so much more than support the “stars” in what is basically an ensemble piece. If you think you’ll just put the pieces you know together and ta-dah! Puzzle solved? Think again my friends, think again. Familiar pieces, highly original, fresh take puzzle. The opposition and competition are strong…but BE MY GUEST to watch an alien become a bit of a “stalker”…I. J. S.