Life Is A Familiar But Sufficiently Creepy Sci-Fi Thriller
When I first heard whispers of a new movie called Life that was about an alien rippin’ shit up on a space ship full of overly-attractive astronauts, I couldn’t help but wonder how such a familiar story made it through the unforgiving Hollywood machine to arrive piping hot in our local theatres today.
With a title that could be applied to any movie ever made and a plot reminiscent of at least three Alien movies, I figured there had to be something that would set Life apart from its counterparts. After checking it out, I did find that its setting just outside Earth’s atmosphere in the very near future was an interesting departure, but its lack of slime, huge space weapons, and a weasly Paul Reiser-type made it slightly less amazing.
We find our heroes aboard the real life International Space Station (complete with a cameo from the Canadarm itself!), where they’re tasked with retrieving a probe returned from Mars carrying precious dirt. After they discover a single-celled organism within the planet’s famous red crud, British scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) takes the lead on studying the organism that a bunch of Earth children dub “Calvin” via satellite link, and quickly surmises that it is both strong and smart while evolving at an accelerated rate. This somehow isn’t enough to scare anyone until things predictably go wrong, leading the characters to attempt to stop it / find somewhere to hide for the bulk of the film.
If you’re a fan of this genre, you’ll have a pretty good time. The movie is well-paced, has a refreshingly restrained run time, and features a fairly rad alien thing that, like the mythical mogwai, starts off cute only to turn menacing once stimulated in a specific fashion. Unlike Gremlins, Life isn’t funny at all unless you’ve got a strange sense of humour, but keeps things interesting by ensuring the ship’s crew is in near-constant terror, and the addition of a classic “race against the clock” scenario that threatens the existence of the human race adds some welcome depth. It also helps that the quick-witted Martian squid thing is presented as virtually indestructible, with an insatiable appetite for human flesh which, combined with lack of large space guns lying around, had me wondering just how the humans would destroy it.
While the presence of mega stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds certainly elevate this modest chiller to blockbuster status, other characters felt more disposable, which is maybe a good thing considering most of them suffer terrible fates.
If you need someplace to hide out for a bit before that other R-rated alien movie (Alien: Covenant) comes out, go ahead and spend your Earth bucks on Life, hitting theatres today. Here’s the trailer to prove we didn’t make this movie up just so we could write a fake review: