sat 24/02/2024

Life review - 'knuckle-gnawing moments of panic' | reviews, news & interviews

Life review - 'knuckle-gnawing moments of panic'

Life review - 'knuckle-gnawing moments of panic'

Is there life on Mars? It would appear so

'What the hell is that thing?' Jake Gyllenhaal as David Jordan

In space, no-one can hear you say “hang on, haven’t I seen this before?” The sprawling, labyrinthine space ship full of ducts and passageways for terrifying creatures to hide in, the laid-back crew who’ve become a little too blasé about life in space, the cute little outer-space organism that looks like an exotic novelty pet…

There’s plenty of Alien in Daniel Espinosa’s lovingly-crafted new space epic, more than a few echoes of the disaster-in-orbit thriller Gravity, and who knows how many flashbacks to countless spook and ghoul extravaganzas set inside haunted houses. Startlingly original it ain’t. Nonetheless, to give him his due, Espinosa understands enough about what viewers can’t help getting sucked into despite themselves to deliver a healthy ratio of toe-curling, knuckle-gnawing moments of panic.

The plot is pretty simple. In their huge space station orbiting above earth, a group of astronauts with an assortment of skills (technical, medical, scientific) await the arrival of a probe carrying back samples from Mars. Even though it’s been knocked off course by a meteorite shower, daredevil space-jock Roy Adams (Ryan Reynolds, pictured above) is able to grab the probe with a mechanical arm as it whizzes past, like a cosmic rodeo-rider.

Through his microsope, the earnest and boffinly Hugh Derry (Ariyon Blake) detects a tiny single-cell creature which, by tweaking temperature and atmosphere, he’s able to bring to life. In fact it’s the first evidence of extraterrestrial life known to Man! Trebles all round.

Derry is besotted with his discovery, with its baby tentacles and adorable little head, but seems completely unaware that sci-fi monsters invariably start out this way. Don’t they teach them anything at astronaut school? Even its startling rate of growth doesn’t set any alarm bells ringing. It’s only when his new pet ruthlessly crushes his hand in its ferocious grip that the crew belatedly start to wise up.

It is, of course, already too late, and the little troupe of space-persons suddenly find themselves trapped in a claustrophic struggle for survival. The tiny specimen seems to have grown another half a dozen sizes every time it’s glimpsed whizzing down an air-vent or climbing in a horrific manner up someone’s trouser leg. After a brief period of resembling a kind of translucent banana-skin, it morphs into a slithery, tentacled thing with a Predator-esque head. Even if they manage to trap it outside in the vacuum of space or zap it with a flame-thrower, the darn thing just won’t die.

The crew do though, in some reasonably imaginative ways, though once the early tension while you’re waiting uneasily for all hell to break loose has dissipated, the piece rather runs out of steam. It would have helped if Espinosa had managed to wring more quirks and originality out of his cast, but the script doesn’t give Jake Gyllenhaal (as the pilot David Jordan) and Rebecca Ferguson (as the maternal Dr Miranda North, pictured above) nearly enough to chew on. Reynolds is fun, but not for very long, while the Japanese astronaut Sho Kendo (Hiroyuki Sanada) shows potential he doesn’t get room to realise.

There is at least a surprise ending, while the sumptuous cinematography successfully evokes the unfathomable emptiness of space, helped greatly by Jon Ekstrand’s doomy electronic soundtrack with its startling floor-quaking frequencies. Yet you feel a quick-and-dirty operator like John Carpenter ought really to have been the man for the job.

Even if they manage to zap it with a flame-thrower, the darn thing just won’t die


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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