Life*** / *****
Directed by: Daniel Espinosa.
Written by: Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal (David Jordan), Rebecca Ferguson (Miranda North), Ryan Reynolds (Roy Adams), Olga Dihovichnaya (Kat), Ariyon Bakare (Hugh Derry), Hiroyuki Sanada (Sho Kendo).
I’m sure the pitch for Life was essentially that its Alien meets Gravity – because that is pretty much what the film delivers. The plot outline isn’t an exact rip-off of Alien, but its close enough for government work. The killer alien itself is actually a wholly different creature than Alien’s xenomorph – and it a wonderfully weird creation, that grows into something quite scary – and that helps the movie a lot. The main thing Life adds to the Alien plot though is that most of it takes place in zero gravity – so everyone is floating around for the entire film, much like Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. Like its Alien comparisons though, the film suffers when compared to Gravity – it doesn’t quite have the same feeling as that film. Yet it’s also hard to complain too much about Life – because as much as it lifts blatantly from two other, better films – it does so in a fashion that is mostly well handled, legitimately scary, and technically adept. It isn’t a masterwork like Alien – nor a great thrill ride like Gravity – but it delivers what it sets out to do, you have to give it that.
The film takes place on the International Space Station (ISS). Its six member crew’s mission is to grab a capsule that scoped up some Mars dirt, than flung it into space or a predefined trajectory. Of, they grab it, and bring it inside, and of course, they discover a single celled organism in that dirt that proves, for the first time, life beyond earth exists. The creature ends up being named Calvin (which is an odd name, and made me anticipate it getting a partner at some point named Hobbes, which disappointingly, never happened – there’s always the sequel I guess), and grows at a rapid rate. The crew member in charge of the creature – Hugh (Ariyong Bakare) is fascinated by it to no end. Eventually, he screws something up though, and Calvin goes into hibernation. Rather than let Calvin wake up at his own pace, Hugh decides to literally prod it – which, predictably, is a horrible idea. Calvin wakes up and is pissed.
You know how this is going to go. The six member crew are basically sheep there to be slaughtered, one at a time, in increasingly gruesome ways. To be fair to the movie, it really does come up with some exciting and original ways to be killed by a creature who could be described as a fast moving space octopus. To be less fair to the movie, these six people are all supposedly pretty smart, but they all essentially make one stupid mistake after another, and I think it’s fairly easy to see the mistakes in terms of protocol that never would be allowed to happen in a real life situation. Then again, if there were real protocols in place, you don’t have a movie, and this space octopus doesn’t get out to kill people in strange ways, so maybe we should stop complaining, and just go with it.
Life is one of those movies you watch and enjoy as it plays, but basically forget about when it’s over. It is a horror movie exercise, that borrows shamelessly from Alien (and to a lesser extent, Aliens) – and Gravity, and others – but does so with style. If you like this type of sci-fi horror film – and I do – than Life delivers the goods you expect, and honestly, not much else. I wish the film were just slightly smarter or scarier, or, well, something. The film could have been better, but in general everyone took the path of least resistance. The movie works for what it is – I just wish it wanted to do something more than that.