Life ★★★½

There isn’t much that’s original about Daniel Espinosa’s sci-fi horror Life, with its key influences being Ridley Scott’s Alien and Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. It’s exactly what one imagines a hybrid of those two films to be, and I was fine with that level of ambition. If you’re going to steal, steal from the best, just make sure you do a good job of it.

A crew aboard the International Space Station discover a single-celled organism taken from a Martian soil sample, which proceeds to grow inordinately fast in their lab, before breaking free and attacking them. The imperilled astronauts are American medical officer Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), British quarantine officer Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), American flight engineer Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), Japanese systems engineer Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada), British exobiologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), and Russian Mission Commander Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya). The alien critter, named Calvin by school children in a live-chat, begins life as an inquisitive translucent wisp before becoming a fearsome snake-headed squid.

Life has a rather terrific opening 40-minutes or so, as we meet the cosmopolitan crew and see them living and working together aboard the ISS. The special effects used to recreate a zero-gravity environment have now been perfected, so it’s very easy to buy into the reality of their claustrophobic environment. There are cliches in terms of how the crew joke around with each other, which I’m never convinced real-life astronauts behave like in private, and a few shortcuts to getting us invested in their characters (Sho has just become father, having Skype’d the birth of his child), but it’s generally a good start that provides a solid emotional grounding for when things go south.

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