There are lots of ways to spot a bad film while you're watching it. The audience laughing during the intended scary bits, for example, is a strong indication of a directorial misstep. So, too, is the moment you find yourself checking your watch and discover it's only 15 minutes in. Perhaps the most telling sign is when you realise that you've already picked everything that's going to happen on screen, and you start re-writing the script in your head in an attempt to make it more interesting. When all of these indicators make themselves known to you so early on, however, the only real question becomes: why are you bothering at all?
That same question could well be asked of the phenomenal cast assembled for Life – a space-based horror film that only succeeds in being based in space. Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson and Japanese A-lister Hiroyuki Sanada all lend their star power to a film that falls well short of deserving it, especially in light of such a generic screenplay.
To be fair, both the premise and opening scenes offer promise. The crew of the International Space Station retrieve a Mars Rover carrying soil samples from the Red Planet that contain a microscopic living organism, the first indisputable proof of life beyond Earth. Rather than explore the inevitable and fascinating religious implications such a discovery would have back on earth, however, Life immediately turns its tiny sentient blob into an ingenious killing...blob. What follows is a by-the-numbers affair that's far closer to Gravity than it is Alien.
Moreover, from go to woe, Life suffers from a collection of bizarrely muted performances operating within a remarkably limited emotional range. The differences, for example, between the celebrations over a crew member becoming a father, and the horror of witnessing a different crew member torn apart from the inside out are almost impossible to spot. There are innumerable unpredictabilities in filmmaking, but one surefire rule is that when a cast doesn't seem engaged in its own project, the audience's concomitant apathy is assured. Here the cast looks more bored than terrified. All in all, there's little to like about Life – and even less hope for the sequel it so blatantly attempts to set up in its final stages.