|'Life': No Bowl of Cherries|
|By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic|
03:22PM / Thursday, March 30, 2017
I'm tempted to give away the ending of director Daniel Espinosa's "Life," an extremely tense but run-of-the-mill outer space adventure that was heading for an only so-so rating even before its curiously misanthropic finish. I'd be doing you a favor.
Sure to be shocked, the viewer is left wondering why Espinosa, working from a script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, would paint such a depressing conclusion. You mean that's it? That's where we're headed? Well then, let me kill myself now. Even Schopenhauer, the granddaddy of pessimism, would be depressed.
Unable to recall another film that imploded so devastatingly in the last two minutes, canceling out what little good had come before it, you feel cheated. Regardless of whether the filmmaker thought to imbue the work with an albeit heartfelt nihilism or hoped to be a poor man's O. Henry, his sneering attempt to be slick is unacceptable. Having invested 102 minutes aboard the International Space Station, anguishing for the personable crew and betting which of them will survive when things go awry, the mean-spiritedness of the last two minutes is insulting.
Granted, it's the artist's palate, and he's free to smear as ugly a picture as he wishes. But to do it so arrogantly, to wave that power with such little regard for his resultantly put upon audience, is like an inept government idiotically imposing its cruelty just to show it can. It thus behooves the victims of such obvious disrespect to voice their disgust, by avoiding this film and, in the case of any such regime, to let them know you abhor their gloomy fearmongering. And while you're at it, might as well be a nice guy and tell your congressman to skip this movie, too.
Being charitable, the film, unlike the hypothetical government alluded to, starts off with a modicum of promise. Comprising a mini United Nations, the bushy-tailed experts manning the space station are likeable, but hardly fascinating. Only Jake Gyllenhaal's Dr. David Jordan, the senior medical officer, earns more explanation than his job description. A disillusioned American veteran of the Iraq War, he's emulating the Kingston Trio's storied MTA rider by setting a record for his time in space. You've trekked the solar system with all the others.
Somewhat interesting, and proving the story's wicked thesis about the dangers of being optimistic and trusting, is Hugh Derry, the Brit biologist whose scientific curiosity unleashes the nasty truth about what happens when you lend a hand to aliens. Nah, no sarcasm here. This is a Mars-type alien. He's barely more than a little paramecium after the scientist does the Lazarus thing and cultivates him from a soil sample dug up on the red planet. The crew names him Calvin. Again, no parable, but you know what happens when you don't institute a Martian ban.
Suffice it to note, all Hell breaks loose aboard the Good Ship Lollipop. The various locks that separate the different sections of the space station, where one might isolate an otherwise indomitable little bugger that's a cross between "The Blob" (1958) and Silly Putty, becomes the battleground. There's no telling if the spatial choreography that encompasses the life and death struggle that ensues makes sense. But it sure is nonstop. Y'know, "Run, he's coming!" There is no comedy relief ... only a relentless doubling down on the survival instinct.
At this point, not knowing the deplorable ending that awaited, I still held no grudge. Rather, with the monster doing his Darwinian darndest to devastate, and everyone aboard the ship thrown into full panic mode, I wondered if all this anxiety foisted upon me was bad for my health. My flow of consciousness went like this: "Am I breathing hard? Is there a cardiologist in the house? Whew! What do I need this for? Why do people like horror movies anyway? Oh well, let's just hope all's well that ends well."
Hmm. Remember how you felt when you didn't get that bike for Christmas? Well, this isn't as bad. But your parents didn't forget that gift because they were evil. There is an inexplicable corruptness here, as if the filmmaker wanted to deconstruct Filmdom itself ... to perpetrate some loony will. A few philosophical musings, like when Rebecca Ferguson's Dr. North tries to make a sophomoric point by opining that Calvin isn't innately bad, do little to ameliorate the madness. Besides, she soon pulls a 180 and shrieks her bloody hatred.
In short, Espinosa's film plays dirty pool, abrogating the unwritten Geneva Convention of motion picture industry oaths that pledges not to play the viewer for a fool. After all, this isn't that conjectural government. We expect a devoted scrupulousness from the arts…our educator, compatriot, court jester and commiserative partner. All of which suggests that the true horror is not Calvin, but the movie "Life" itself.
"Life," rated R, is a Columbia Pictures release directed by Daniel Espinosa and stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ariyon Bakare. Running time: 104 minutes