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Scientists aboard the International Space Station, including Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal, get a lot more than they bargained for when the investigate organic samples returned from Mars, in Life.

First things first. Life, is NOT, a Venom prequel. Not unless Sony decided to launch their latest multi-million dollar franchise through a relatively small sci-fi horror film, albeit it one with a well-known cast.

What Life is, is an engaging, taut, Sci-Fi horror set aboard the ISS that owes a huge debt to Ridley Scott’s Alien. For most of it’s running time Life basically is Alien in zero-G, (slowly growing creature, improvised flamethrowers) but with enough of a new spin to keep things interesting and almost zero fat (someone already beat me to the “Alien meets Gravity” tagline).

Is there life on Mars?

Life Jake Gyllenhaal Rebecca Ferguson

It’s the little differences and wrinkles that really make the movie. Unlike Sir Ridley’s “truckers in space”, this crew of the ISS have at least some idea of what they are dealing with . The films opens with a thrilling capture of a malfunctioning Mars probe, shot almost entirely from inside the ISS, but the malfunction is not the source of their problems.  Without resorting to too much of an info dump, the filmmakers slowly let the audience know the crew were expecting biological samples aboard the probe, having found the remains of organic cells on Mars previously.  They have contingencies in place, just in case things get out of hand or their samples of space dirt happen to contain space anthrax.

If you’ve seen the trailer then you know…things get out of hand.

The marketing for the latest from director Daniel Espinosa (Child 44, 2012 Safe House) made it look like Life was more of a “Sci-Fi adventure” but  Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick (Zombieland,  G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Deadpool) have crafted a very effective, haunted house story where there’s nowhere to escape to but the coldness of space.

Needless exposition and pointless scenes are left at the airlock, as Life moves from tense set piece to set piece. The tension ratcheted up by an excellent score from Jon Ekstrand. At times the pace can be a little too fast, too convenient, with the creature and the crew getting on the same page regarding the next angle of attack simultaneously, so they can feint and counter each other. that’s not to say that there aren’t some nice ( and horrifying) surprises in store as well.

The Chances of Anything Coming from Mars…

Life Ryan Reynolds

As for the crew, they all provide decent performances as lunch for the alien. Ryan Reynolds plays Ryan Reynolds; the usual cocky, jokey guy he’s come to exemplify. Gyllenhaal provides a little more depth as an astronaut who prefers space to Earth. Olga Dihovichnaya stoic commander suffers a little from some forced dialogue, while Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) frets about maintaining quarantine. In a nice touch Ariyon Bakare’s (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell) scientist Derry has to use a wheelchair back on Earth and so relishes the freedom of floating in space. It’s also nice to see that Hiroyuki Sanada gets another chance to go back to space after Danny Boyle’s Sunshine.

The characters are revealed slowly through tiny details, fleshing them out organically but there’s no Ripley on board who stands out. You might even get more enjoyment out of Life guessing who’s going to die first.

While not overly gory there are some inventive ways to die in space shown,  and some nasty scenes of bones breaking may not be for the squeamish. If you aren’t a fan of earthbound horror you’re not going to enjoy this anymore.

With a relatively short running time (1h 43min), some beautiful shots of the ISS,  well-implemented realisation of Zero G, a well-designed creature and an ending that will please some and annoy others, Life is an enjoyably tense creature-feature. It also joins the expanding ranks of modern horror movies that don’t solely rely on jump scares.

It’s a great date movie.

Starring:  Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hiroyuki Sanada, Olga Dihovichnaya, Ariyon Bakare

Directed by:  Daniel Espinosa

Official Site here.

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Movie lover, project manager, coder. co-host of the McYapndFries movie podcast. Irish lost in Malaysia. Can be found on twitter @McNastyPrime (and yes, that IS the Iron Throne)