“Life” Movie Review


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     Director Daniel Espinosa’s space based horror/thriller, “Life”, comes at an interesting time within the movie release calendar.  In order to qualify everything I’m about to say, let me first add that I saw the original “Alien” as a wide eyed 7 year old in 1979, and to this day I consider that film’s sequel, 1986’s “Aliens”, as the best film ever made and both films science fiction royalty.  It’s also no secret that a certain prequel/sequel within the “Alien” universe, “Alien: Covenant”, slithers into theaters just under two months from now, so you’ll have to excuse me when I refer to “Life” as merely an appetizer for the upcoming main course. That being said, Espinosa’s film has its merits, but the endless borrowing from “Alien” reduces the film to something more along the lines of Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Event Horizon” or Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine”, rather than the science fiction classic I assume the filmmakers intended it to be.

     Stop me when you’ve heard this one before.  A small crew inhabiting a claustrophobic and dark ship floating within the confines of space encounters a creature from another planet, who begins as a small, perhaps even harmless form, but eventually grows into something much larger and ghastly looking, and eventually starts picking off the crew members one by one.  Yep, thats “Life”, following the “Alien” playbook, narratively speaking, scene by scene as it spends its 103 minute running time catapulting the audience and the surviving crew members toward a climax that even takes place on an escape pod that, you guessed it, is only designed for one!  The comparisons are endless and whether or not “Life” is for you will depend upon how willing you are to forgive the filmmakers for allowing themselves these liberties mere weeks before an actual “Alien” film hits theaters.  As I’m watching “Life” unfold, I’m wondering “Did the filmmakers actually think they would upstage “Alien: Covenant” by lifting the storyline from the 1979 classic?”.  Apparently so.

     Perhaps the studio knew this was a hard sell when they began airing a television ad a couple days before the film’s release which touted an 88% Rotten Tomatoes score with a grand total of 8 reviews counted at the time!  Nonetheless, “Life” begins with a solid enough premise, as the six crew members of the International Space Station welcome the arrival of a space craft sent to Mars for geological sample collection and has now successfully returned from its unmanned mission.  Of course, this being a horror film, we know many of the six crew members are bound to make some really dumb decisions and as it turns out, neither of them disappoints in that department.  The resident biologist, Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), discovers an organism within one of the Mars soil samples and declares to all of Earth’s population below that the crew has discovered the first known alien life.  To show just how excited the world is, a young student is given the opportunity to stand in Times Square on national television, while simultaneously linked via video with the astronauts, and give the newly discovered life form an official name. She chooses Calvin.

     Just like the biologist in “Prometheus” who decided it was smart to shake hands with an unidentified alien snake and met his demise as a result, Hugh begins a playful and curious relationship with his now growing little friend, relying on the safety of rubber gloves and an examination room that contains the two from the rest of the crew.  Of course, Calvin decides he doesn't like all the prodding and attention, so he suddenly latches on to Hugh, breaking and mangling his hand in the process and sending the onlooking crew into a frenzy.  What follows is Calvin escaping the supposedly unescapable room via air ducts in the ceiling (just like “Alien”), forcing the station’s leader, Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), to come up with a plan to find and ultimately kill their now unwanted visitor.  All of this is held up by continuous and ongoing bad decision making by all involved, including the resident hard head, Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), the reluctant and sometimes timid character, David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), the go getter willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), and the trusty tech wizard, Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada).

     Between action sequences, the screenwriters, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, have the characters sit and pontificate their next move, which includes plenty of analysis about the creature’s remarkable ability to adapt to its environment (just like “Alien”), and their apparent respect for Calvin as a being even though it seems hell bent on eliminating each one of them.  It got to the point I half expected a scene where it would be revealed Hugh was actually a robot placed within the crew by an evil company to ensure Calvin’s survival and use as a bio weapon.  Eventually, we are even subjected to a sequence in which Calvin is being tracked and represented by a dot on a computer screen as the remaining crew looks in horror when he approaches an unsuspecting victim (just like “Alien”).  And if that’s not enough, the only weapon these guys can muster is a flame thrower (just like “Alien”), while Calvin itself preys on his victims with a disturbing type of penetration, playing on the audience’s fear of rape, just like “Alien”.

     Through all the ripping off, Espinosa does manage plenty of set pieces that are worthy of the genre and in some cases actually break new ground.  The effects and production design are all top notch, the actors are convincing, the creature design is creative, and the ending of the film deserves credit for going in a direction the audience probably won’t expect.  But the overall vibe is just too close to “Alien”, which leads to a lack of overall suspense and tension that is crucial for a film like this to thrive.  If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought I was watching a reboot.  GRADE: C-