by John Mulderig
NEW YORK (CNS) — Director Daniel Espinosa and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick adopt a serious tone in the ensemble sci-fi thriller “Life” (Columbia).
Together with deft performances and some creative camera work, this unusually thoughtful mood serves to offset the familiarity of the film’s humans-versus-predator premise.
Characters are too busy battling for their lives to engage in much romance — chaste or otherwise. But the bloody details of their conflict with the rampaging alien at the heart of the action are suitable neither for kids nor for the squeamish among their elders.
Said E.T. arrives on an unmanned capsule carrying samples back from Mars that the multiethnic crew of an international space station has been tasked with retrieving.
Besides the vessel’s commander, cosmonaut Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), the team includes world-weary physician Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal); rules-driven disease prevention expert Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson); freewheeling mission specialist Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds); homesick flight engineer Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada); and paraplegic British scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare).
Faced with the tricky task of stopping the cargo ship before it speeds past them, the astronauts are delighted when they succeed. They’re even happier once Derry’s research reveals that they’re in possession of the first living organism ever encountered beyond Earth.
Unfortunately for them, however, the initially tiny creature they’ve taken on board turns out to have not only an incredibly rapid growth rate but a murderously aggressive approach to interacting with humans. It’s also devilishly brilliant and resourceful.
Loss of life is treated with an unusual degree of sober reflection in the suspenseful clash of wits and survival skills that follows.
This is in obvious and welcome contrast to the innumerable Hollywood movies in which the bodies of anonymous, mown-down extras seem to pile up like so many chords of wood. It may also serve as a legitimate point of divergence from the movie with which many viewers will inevitably compare “Life” — Ridley Scott’s memorable 1979 franchise-begetter, “Alien.”
Yet, while largely free of callousness in its portrayal of fatal violence, “Life” is so bleak and, at times, darkly ironic, that it can feel nihilistic. Thus, in whole passages of the dialogue discussing bereavement, there’s not a glimmer or hint of faith in an afterlife. As a result, moviegoers may feel as confined in the script’s secular, despairing outlook as the trapped space travelers do within their invaded craft.
The film contains some gory deaths and gruesome images, a few uses of profanity as well as numerous rough and several crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.