The famous film proverb reads “In space, no-one can hear you scream”. Well, the one that’s been famous since 1977. Since then many have tried and failed to replicate the claustrophobic terrors of Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi masterpiece and now 40 years later, it’s the turn of Life to step up to the plate and try its luck. But where others have floundered, Daniel Espinosa’s alien-loose-in-space tale does very admirably indeed.
The influence of Alien is obvious (with even tip of the cap to the famous title card) and the similarities continue throughout proceedings, right down to it’s space-filled nightmares. But where those other pretenders failed to live up to its history, Life stands tall as an enthralling, funny and ultimately terrifying film that is its own beast. Written by Deadpool and Zombieland scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, Life follows a group of scientists (led by Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds) on an international space station sent to collect data from Mars where a separate draft has landed and taken samples. Back onboard, an organism is found in said samples and the intrepid group of six begin to run some tests. A few gentle prods later and the newly-codenamed “Calvin” starts to become self aware and wouldn’t you know it begins to become smarter and wreck havoc on the ship and its inhabitants.
So far, so Alien. But what keeps Life fresh and suspenseful is the creature from the black recesses – rather than a eight-foot, looming presence, “Calvin” is smaller but just as horrifying. There’s a vicious, aggressive nature to the creature as it attacks that’s both unnerving and predatory that makes for some wonderfully heart-pounding moments. Indeed those Venom fan theories that have been doing the rounds, while untrue, are strangely not a million miles off from the monster that terrorises our spacemen here, and with Reese and Wernick scripting an earlier version of the Spider-Man spin-off film, you can see where they might have got their influences from.
Espinosa’s direction, meanwhile, is fluid and slick throughout, showcasing both the majesty of zero-gravity and the confined, imprisoned feel of spaceship travel, all the while keeping us guessing as to what lurks around the corner. Across the board, all the acting talent are fantastic despite some limited character development (many just get a few lines to tell us the who and why) but with this calibre of talent it’s impossible not to be ensconced by them and the story as the terror levels rise.
While it’s looks like another riff off the tale as old as the seventies, Life is a tense, thoughtful and fun space thriller that delivers all the chills, thrills and spills as you would hope and takes its place as one of the most enjoyable films of the year so far.
Life blasts into UK cinemas on 24th March.