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Life is the moment when the Swedish Director Daniel Espinosa, 40, jumps off from the safe haven of a typical actor-driven genre movie and takes control. In Life, a team of scientists aboard the International Space Station and travel to find existence on Mars only to find that the planet is inhabited by one hostile space octopus.
If that sounds too generic (or cheesy?), don’t worry, the film is bigger than the slimy crawler and the simple premise; it’s the directing, acting, editing, filming and, of course, the script that makes this bad boy a winner.
The cast features a trio of well-known actors: Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko, Nightcrawler), Rebecca Ferguson (The Girl on the Train, Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation) and Ryan Reynolds (Safe House, Deadpool) – and a couple of less-known: Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine, 47 Ronin), Olga Dihovichnaya (House of Others, Twilight Portrait) and Ariyon Bakare (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell, Dancing on the Edge).
Unlike Espinosa’s previous work, Life is not so much an actor-driven flick, as it is driven by suspense created by the script and the director. It’s literally a different species than for example Safe House (2012), which launched Espinosa’s career from Stockholms Län to Hollywood Boulevard. It was Denzel Washington’s talent and the symbiosis between him and Ryan Reynolds that made the wheels of the clichéd CIA story spin. The shaky camerawork and the script by David Guggenheim, however, did the film no justice (He is also known for the very bad Nicolas Cage movie Stolen in 2012.)
Life is written by the same guys (Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick) as the very enjoyable superhero smackdown from last year, Deadpool. It certainly helps that Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey has a long list of blockbusters in his résumé, ranging from The Avengers (2012) to Godzilla (2014). The CGI supports McGarvey’s angles and light perfectly.
Oh, and the whole cast does a fine job, too. Especially, Gyllenhaal as David Jordan who would rather stay in space than land back on Earth among “8 million motherfuckers.” Hiroyuki Sanada as Sho Murakami is like a space samurai; when he moves, you know he means business. Rebecca Ferguson as firewall expert Miranda North brings some intelligent estrogen to the mix.
Life twists and turns, and most of the time you forget to breathe. The score of the movie haunts you to your seat. In the age of an average movie lasting about two hours, Life as 1 hour and 43 minutes is a refreshing take. It’s over when you have finished your popcorn.
You may need to comb your hair, though.
Life premieres in cinemas March 24.