By Shelby Fielding (Lubbock, Texas, US)
Isolation is something that most of us fear. The fear of being cut off from interaction with others. Being left alone to your thoughts and your subconscious with no escapism through relationships with others. Daniel Espinosa’s Life is a film that captures that concept beautifully. Not only exemplifying that feeling of solitude but also capturing the sensation of entrapment. Life presents a narrative in which a team of scientists abroad the International Space Station find themselves quarantined with an extraterrestrial life form that begins to develop into a terrifying creature that craves life (no pun intended), presenting an entrancing story that begs the question if discovering other forms of life is worth it?
Opening with an enthralling tracking shot to offer this enclosed environment where our narrative takes place. Daniel Espinosa shows his talent as a director in these first 5 minutes by not only displaying his skills with a camera but also his ability to capture that sense of remoteness without a word of dialogue. Instead, he uses visual storytelling, by grasping the visuals of the entire space station within a matter of minutes. Capturing the setting without an establishing shot, but instead, he captures by how enclosed it is. The little space between the walls, how the astronauts fit in their respective spaces, the enclosures distances, and even the details of how the station functions. This incredible tracking shot displays the potential of Espinosa as a director. With his last film, Safe House, feeling underwhelming due to a thin script and inadequate editing for its action scenes, Life brings Daniel Espinosa’s career back to life with an exceptional display of the art of direction.
The film continued to surprise with solid performances from the entire main cast. Ryan Reynolds provides a familiar performance, serving as the comic relief for the film first ten minutes. It’s not until the first act comes to a conclusion, that Reynolds starts portraying a character that is fundamentally different from his past performances. Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent in his portrayal of the anti-social character known as David Jordan. However, his character is poorly written with a lack of character depth provided to create interest and relatability in character to provide more substance or at least augment more heart into the major plot developments. Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Olga Dihovichnaya all stand out as well. Hiroyuki especially emerged with the most compassionate presentation in the film’s 104 minute run time.
However, Ariyon Bakare caught my eye the most in this film. Bakare is also the best well-written character in Life given a strong back story and interesting character traits. He’s a man that knows what it’s like to be paralyzed, figuratively and literally. A scientist at his core, he chooses to focus more on the chance of discovering a new organism instead of the safety of his teammates. These satisfying performances correlate with proficient technical filmmaking in an organic and grounded manner. The visual effects blend seamlessly, with a lack of focus put on the CGI, the effects don’t stick out like a sore thumb instead they fade into the background and allow the character and the fascinatingly disturbing story to be the focus distinctly. The cinematographic design of the film was riveting in addition to the remarkable direction and strong visual effects. Seamus McGarvey was the director of photography for Life following his recent success in Nocturnal Animals, which was artistically crafted for the human eye.
Using sharp primary colors to capture the attention of the eye, and McGravey follows that up by relying on excellent lighting to bring out the dark secondary colors that paint this mysteriously entrapping environment. The one aspect of Life that could’ve ruined it completely is the creature itself. Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and the art department capture an intuitive take on the trope of a movie monster. Conceptualizing an eerie and ominously menacing organism that not only is visually creepy but it also has an awful sound design for its movements. A hair-raising and a goosebump creating alien that not only serves as a fantastic antagonist but also successfully blends in with the grounded realism of the screenplay.
Life is Daniel Espinosa’s presentation to audiences and critics alike that there is so much more to this director’s future in filmmaking. Though it does suffer from a dosage under development with its characters, Life combines its fundamental elements of the screenplay with passionate filmmaking qualities and a narrative that provides more evidence to the contrary of human exploration. Life intends to provide more reasoning, in addition to its brother’s and sister’s in the alien genre, that maybe life beyond earth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And, furthermore, begs the question if our humanity of fearing that the unknown is dangerous is an idea that shouldn’t be seen as ignorant but instead precautionary.