As much as it wants to be, the new deep-space thriller Life is no Alien. Then again, what is? What could be? When Ridley Scott directed his 1979 no one-can-hear-you-scream masterpiece, there were still rules to break and boundaries to push. He giddily broke and pushed all of them, combining what were dismissed as two distinct and disreputable gutter genres (science fiction and horror) and fusing them into one glorious chest-bursting hybrid. You could be intelligent and graphically gooey at the same time. Who knew? In fact, it was possible that by doing so you could even approach something like art. Life doesn’t aspire to be art. Which is fine. Not everything has to. I only bring up Alien because that’s how the movie is being sold. Still, if you lower your sights a few pegs and go in looking for a solid, tight B-movie that builds right until the final shot, there’s a lot to like.
Life tracks the fates of six astronauts aboard the International Space Station. They’re making a pitstop on their way home from Mars, where they found microscopic evidence of single-cell life forms, and they’ve got the history-making specimens with them. Director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House, Child 44) gets off to a somewhat muddled start, fumbling what could have been a concise table-setting tour of the spacecraft, but instead he turns it into a murky maze. We never really know where we are. All we know is that it’s dark and as cramped and claustrophobic as a casket, which is essentially what we know it will become over the next hour and a half. The introduction of the crew and their gumbo of accents is only slight more coherent: There’s Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation) as the no-nonsense rep from the Centers for Disease Control; Jake Gyllenhaal as the slightly depressive chief medical officer; Ryan Reynolds as (what else?) the wisecracking scientist tossing off Re-Animatorreferences; Ariyon Bakare (Jupiter Ascending) as the ship’s exobiologist with withered CG legs (which seems like a very pricey method of character building); Russian actress Olga Dihovichnaya as a Boris-and-Natasha-sounding cosmonaut; and Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine) as a Japanese engineer and proud father of a newborn back on Earth.