Cobble together every outer-space thriller you can think of – with especially heavy doses of “Alien” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” – and you get “Life.”
Or, “What Happens When an International Crew Lets a Rapidly-Morphing Creature From Mars Aboard Their Space Station.”
Some of the thrills are inherent just from that basic plot, and the good news is that there are enough of them to sustain the film. There’s also a solid cast, including Ryan Reynolds (who gets to speak words by the screenwriters of “Deadpool” again) along with Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson (“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”).
They make up half of the intergalactic team that risks life, limb and organs when they bring on board a shape-shifting alien whose rapid-growth physiology could hold the key to the future of life as we know it. That’s all well and good, but soon, it’s time for an update of Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” as the crew members start getting decimated one by one.
And in the end, only a couple are left to blow the ravaged, Earth-threatening space station to high heaven … though it’s already in the high heavens.
“Life” is a firm example of “what’s old is new again,” a revisiting of a subgenre that’s worked before: space station (or, in the case of pictures like “Leviathan” and “DeepStar Six,” undersea outpost) as haunted house. Sure, it can throw all the scientific mumbo-jumbo at you that it wants – and for sure, “Life” has a jumbo amount of mumbo – but it’s basically out to have you jump from your seat when you aren’t prepared for it.
The thing is, you go into this sort of film prepared for those scares to come, and they’d better be good, since they have so many predecessors to top or at least meet. “Life” does a reasonably good job on that count, with a big boost from having performers as likable as Gyllenhaal and Reynolds literally aboard. You don’t want to see them meet the Grim Reaper of the Cosmos quickly, if at all, so there’s an added viewer investment that way.
Yes, we have been here before, but “Life” has a certain style that keeps it watchable. It does take itself a tad too seriously when a dose or two of humor might help, but hey – that’s “Life.”