You have to suspend disbelief to buy the circumstances of any sci-fi thriller, and “Life” is no exception. Most of the action takes place on a space station and within the space ship itself rather than in the black void of space.
“Life” creates a far different experience than “Gravity,” which may have been the last big space movie to make you grip your date’s arm a little too hard. The suspense here harkens back to the classic 1979 film “Alien.” You remember “Alien” – the film that left a whole generation absolutely sure they didn’t want to be astronauts.
“Life” has plenty of stunning effects that take place within the confines of the ship, and the well-tuned script provides a plot that moves at a good clip. Of the six astronauts, Jake Gyllenhaal’s character David Jordan has the most depth. Jordan has spent more than 400 days on the space station, but no sign of the toll can be seen. He likes the vastness of space, and in some sense the simplicity of it. Earth is a teaming mass of confusion with violence and circumstances that no one can control. In space, Jordan knows the rules, or at least as they are for now.
Much of the time, the six astronauts spend their time doing what most teams of scientists in space do. They’re involved in the the heady stuff of beaming lessons to 6th graders back on earth and conducting research on collected dirt samples.
Everything’s going as planned until astronaut Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) makes a startling discovery. One of the Mars samples contains a single-celled amoeba-like life form. Obviously, this is a first. Discovery of a life form from another planet has earth-shattering consequences. We are not alone in the universe. Unfortunately, the cell doesn’t appear to have any activity within its molecular structures.
After a series of experiments, Derry determines that the cell’s dormancy can be awakened by altering a variety of environmental circumstances. After tinkering with temperature and light, success! In the blink of an eye, the cell awakens and its evolution begins.
The team of fascinated scientists can’t believe their luck. They’re witnessing the miracle of life up close and in stunning progression. In only minutes, the single cell blossoms to become something that looks like a multi-tentacled sea urchin. From there, it will only be a matter of time.
Suspense runs wild as the circumstances surrounding the alien coalesce, and the inevitable occurs. You can surely guess what happens next. Let’s just say that Mother Nature on Mars has an agenda.
Rated R for language throughout, some sci-fi violence and terror.
Marilyn Robitaille has been writing film reviews for the Empire-Tribune since 1999.