Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #628
Number of Views: One
Release Date: March 24, 2017
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $99,000,000
Running Time: 103 minutes
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Producers: David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Bonnie Curtis, Julie Lynn
Screenplay: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Special Effects: David Watkins
Visual Effects: Mark Bakowski, Wayne Brinton, Huw J. Evans, Marcin Kolendo, John Moffatt, Adam Rowland, Doug Spilatro, Max Wright
Cinematography: Seamus McGarvey
Score: Jon Ekstrand
Editing: Frances Parker, Mary Jo Markey
Studio: Skydance Media
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya, Alexander Nguyen, Hiu Woong-Sin
♫ Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Jon Ekstrand “Spacewalk”
 Jon Ekstrand “I Thought They Came To Rescue Us”
 Jon Ekstrand “A Long Way Back”
Sci-fi horror gets my dick hard. I just want to put that out there before we proceed a solitary step further as I have business this day and it involves informing you fine people about a film which I’m about to take a rather hefty punt on. You see, there ain’t a sci-fi horror movie that has escaped my attention since I first had the slowly asphyxiating pleasure of drinking in Ridley Scott’s Alien for the very first time at ten-years-old. Let’s be honest here, it’s hardly what you would call a time-consuming pastime as so few ever make it past the planning stage and the reason for this is elementary. Unless you’ve got a spare ten million dollars knocking about at the very least or possess the directorial skills of an imperial wizard, chances are, the seed of your idea can never hope to flourish in the vast ocean of emptiness. It’s a risky endeavor and one that few commit to as you’re only as good as your last film in Hollywood and big budget flops tend not to look crash hot on one’s résumé. Make a sci-fi horror, take that shit to market, fail to recoup your outlay, and you’re out the airlock before you can say “but nobody’s going to hear me scream”.
Okay so let’s get down to beeswax shall we? You ready for a bold statement? Daniel Espinosa’s Life is, in my opinion, hands down the finest deep space sci-fi horror movie to emerge since Scott braved the unknown back in 1979. There I said it. Just to apply a dash of perspective to this opening bombshell, I haven’t forgotten Scott’s own Prometheus or Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, two films that I hold in extremely lofty regard, both of which delivered us tantalizingly close to the apex of interstellar greatness. This leaves me in a unique position as I just returned from my primary introduction to Espinosa’s film, have every desire to gush and indeed I shall. That said, the amount I’m prepared to share about this exquisite little number is extremely limited as there’s still time to catch it at your local multiplex and I strongly urge you to do just that. My advice would be to forget trailers, drop everything, and book those tickets post-haste as this my friends is how you do sci-fi horror correctly and the less you know about it the better.
So this is the part when I fuck it all up by revealing the crucial plot points right? That’s a negative, you will find absolutely no spoilers here, just the vaguest of introductions to the threat that the crew in question are about to face head on and that’s all you’re getting out of me. Trust me, you’ll thank me in the long run as Life knows precisely how to compromise the oxygen supply and spends 103 minutes doing just that. Indeed, I have seldom felt my skin itch quite as rigorously as it did here. Hopefully, those taste buds have now been sufficiently whetted so, without further ado, it’s time to tiptoe through some tulips. As you’re no doubt aware by this point; I’m wearing my glossiest lipstick for this one and I’ve even got a breath mint at the ready. Please don’t make me spell that out as some things are just best left unsaid.
So I guess there’s no harm or foul in meeting and greeting our soon to be sorry six-strong squad of space stragglers right? There couldn’t be a better time to hop aboard the International Space Station as the crew are on the cusp of a truly monumental discovery, having successfully intercepted a drifting space probe containing a soil sample collected from the surface of the red planet. Said specimen provides the first conclusive proof that there is life on Mars or anywhere other than planet Earth come to think of it.
Take a bow master and commander Katerina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), pilot Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), system engineer Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada), senior medical officer Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), quarantine officer Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) and exobiologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare); as your tireless endeavor and go get ’em collective attitude is about to mature into bona fide dividends.
However, before we start sucking one another’s dicks and titties, about this unusual organism you’ve unearthed. The good people of Earth have affectionately named this find Calvin and hope to learn much from it over the coming months. While dormant and seemingly existing solely on borrowed time, Calvin does react to stimuli and is only too happy to accept any glucose in the vicinity. Dr. North sums things up rather nicely when she states that this multi-celled life form is “all muscle, all brain and all eye.”
That is to say it is lean on surplus body mass, learns whip-smart fast, and is very much watching those watching it at all times. It also boasts 100% survival instinct and is equipped to ensure such with every last fast-branching fibre in its being. There’s no personal vendetta here but neither is there any hope of reasoning with Calvin once it gets a taste for the fresh environment. And it does. Boy does it get a taste.
I told you I was feeling stingy and that’s all the reveal I’m obliged to donate as Life will answer any further questions first-hand and in a manner no less than utterly decisive. From the very moment it stakes its primary claim to the closing frame, we’re locked in and Calvin knows a thing or two about grabbing those short and curlies at the root, not to mention giving them a fearful tug. Espinosa doesn’t fritter a single opportunity to constrict his audience and this equates to unbearable levels of tension as each close encounter is made very much personal.
Those expecting exploding heads and hellish half-breed hybrids may be disappointed but less in this case means so much more and the very worst atrocities are entrusted to our boundless imaginations for sorting, just as they damn well should be. One transaction in particular I haven’t been able to shake since departing the auditorium and the approach Espinosa adopts to rattling our cages is both intelligent and measured throughout. Meanwhile, Jon Ekstrand’s intermittently oppressive score only serves to heighten this mounting distress.
The cast is superb across the board, and while I consider Gyllenhaal to be possibly the most instinctively soulful actor living and breathing today, here I simply cannot single him out for extra credit as this one’s all about the team and not just one player. One of the things that Sunshine got bang on the money was that no one character felt expendable and each casualty therefore hit us with maximum impact. Here the same can very much be said and the lean script by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick supplies every last character gravitas without once talking itself into a corner or overcooking the goose. Every decision made has potential repercussions and is weighted against the fate of the entire planet but while the crew members are analytical in their calculations, basic humanity isn’t surrendered and ultimately this is what makes their task that much more more thankless as their enemy isn’t hamstrung by such inherent weakness.
Predictably there have been naysayers and many of them appear to be taking Espinosa to task for piggybacking off Alien’s blueprint for interstellar terror. While there are undoubtedly similarities between the two, Espinosa’s film possesses its own unique identity and presents a nerve-jangling game of cat-and-mouse that knows not how to let up. At 103 minutes long, it is never in any fear of outstaying its welcome but it’s the manner in which it populates this running time that elevates it effortlessly above most movies of its ilk. The sad fact is that decent sci-fi horror is in decidedly scant supply, so when a movie such as this enters our orbit, we really should make the most of it. With the hugely anticipated Alien Covenant now within touching distance, there seems no better way to get in the mood. Subsequent views will reveal whether it has the staying power to be widely considered a hands down classic, but I have a sneaking suspicion that there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: While not overtly gory by any means, Espinota understands the power of a simple lingering shot and the sight of coughed up blood globules hanging in the air like deep red dewdrops, coupled with the final labored gulps of his victims, is every bit as potent as any balls out bloodbath could ever hope to achieve.
Read Alien Appraisal
Read Prometheus Appraisal
Read Sunshine Appraisal
Read The Last Days on Mars Appraisal
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of the Crimson Quill