The trailers for Life are impressively coy. While they can’t disguise something as topline as the lazy and generic title, that isn’t necessarily an indication that the film is bad. And while it’s impossible to hide how closely the film’s premise skews towards Alien, the trailers easily mitigate that by willfully flaunting that fact – this film wears its theft on its sleeve. Aside from that, the trailers consist primarily of smoke and mirrors, shrouded in cryptic cuts and imposing music cues, all of which deftly throw viewers off the scent of a film so entirely wretched that it’s hard to piece together how it all went so wrong.
Just how sufficiently Life bombs is only actualized in retrospect – I intensely loathed every second but didn’t quite grasp that until the credits rolled. While the film plays, it’s like an obstacle course of mental fortitude, proceeding in episodic loops of cookie-cutter alien-stalks-astronaut tropes while never actually landing on an actual story worth telling or a single character worth caring about. It’s a series of limp sci-fi clichés garnishing a transparent rip-off of a central concept so lacking in original energy yet so convinced of its own virtue that many viewers will spend the film’s duration pondering whether to take it seriously.
One thing’s for sure: Life absolutely takes itself very seriously, which is at first curious and eventually grating. It opens with an extended wannabe single-take that cribs equally from Gravity and 2001, an awkwardly operatic glide through an international space station that is about to obtain a sample of potential extraterrestrial life from a space probe captured from Mars. We know this only because we are told, in rote detailed narration, by Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), who functions as our exposition czar, relaying everything we might need to know at any given point because the film is too incomprehensible to convey information via any other means. Ferguson isn’t the only good actor stranded in this mess – Jake Gyllenhaal is saddled with the role of a war veteran who would rather be in space because people are too mean to each other on Earth, and Ryan Reynolds turns up as, basically, Deadpool in space. Together they are put through a ringer of stunningly bad choices that clang together with no rhythm or forward motion, a Twilight Zone episode on repeat four times over occasionally punctuated with weightless space gore and four-letter words, just so we know it’s a movie for adults.
Of course, very quickly we realize the spore of Martian life doesn’t like our would-be heroes, becoming a nondescript monster blob that stalks them and then picks them off, one by one, like a space slasher. These sequences unfold in basically the same manner, beginning with a character shouting “it can’t live without oxygen!” and then being surprised by the fact that “It seems to be able to survive in inhospitable environments!” That trait, simplistic and obvious though it is, makes the space monster Life’s most interesting character, since the humans on board are all one-note ciphers of gasping fear and redundant inaction, going through the sci-fi motions while spewing nonsensical would-be platitudes (including an earnest recitation of Goodnight Moon) just long enough to extend the film to feature length.
We know it’s time for a last-minute whiz-bang climax once the screenplay whittles itself down to only two characters, who must find a way to best this indefatigable splotch before the ship descends into Earth’s atmosphere. Without giving too much away, this climax is both copycat in theory and cruel in execution, a baseless bait-and-switch that isn’t remotely earned and completely disrespects the intelligence of the audience. Frankly, though, it’s fitting that a film so totally clueless about what it wants to be would attempt to bail itself out with a nonsense gotcha salvo, a final admission that the entire enterprise was a waste of space.