Bughunt in space gets claustrophobic

Ryan Reynolds, an A-lister in a B-movie plot, in Life.
Ryan Reynolds, an A-lister in a B-movie plot, in Life.PHOTO: SONY PICTURES

REVIEW / THRILLER-HORROR

LIFE (NC16)

104 minutes/Now showing/3/5 stars

The story: A soil sample from a Mars mission is brought on board the International Space Station for study. It is found to contain a microscopic living organism, thrilling crew members David (Jake Gyllenhaal), Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson), Roy (Ryan Reynolds), Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada), Hugh (Ariyon Bakare) and Kat (Olga Dihovichnaya). That joy sours rapidly.

What begins as a promising fact- based science thriller in the vein of The Martian (2015) or Gravity (2013) turns into a competently executed if unoriginal addition to the bughunt-in-space genre.

With A-listers such as Gyllenhaal and Reynolds in a B-movie plot, you would expect production values to be high and, indeed, this is an expensive-looking creature feature: The International Space Station looks solid and detailed, the spacesuits do not look like repurposed riot gear and the computer-generated spacewalk backdrops look as majestic as they should.

As if mindful of comparisons to Gravity, director Daniel Espinosa (serial-killer thriller Child 44, 2015) keeps the glorious, vertigo-inducing spacescapes to a minimum. The claustrophobia angle is what he is looking for and he finds it.

Of course, Alien (1979) and The Thing (1982) loom large on the horizon for anyone attempting a confined-quarters survival movie, but Espinosa, wisely perhaps, chooses to assume that no one would mind a remake.

He avoids most of the cliches that plague films of this variety. There are no deus ex machina solutions to the crew's plight, for example. But he falls badly for other well-worn tropes, such as having scientist Hugh (Bakare) behave in an illogically cavalier way with an unknown life form.

Tip for scientists: When you meet an alien creature, no matter how cute it is, do not stick any body part you want to keep in its face.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2017, with the headline 'Bughunt in space gets claustrophobic'. Print Edition | Subscribe