Trade in Big Chap for Calvin.
Have you ever heard of a tiny science fiction film titled Alien? What about The Thing? You have? Well, then you mostly know what’s in store for you in Daniel Espinosa’s Life. Life takes the very familiar concept of “people get stuck on claustrophobic space station with mysterious alien; die” and plays it very straight, delivering a story with all of the tropes one would expect from what is essentially Alien: Redux, but solidly executed. While Life may not reinvent the wheel, it’s certainly an enjoyable ride.
The film opens with a bang with a single take set piece as the crew on the International Space Station rush to catch a capsule which is hurtling towards the Earth. The scene is as economical in its storytelling as it frantic, energetic, and chaotic, perfectly demonstrating the capability of each crew member as well as showing their effectiveness as a team. After it is successfully caught, the crew (composed of Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare and Olga Dihovichnaya) discovers that the capsule contains microbial life from Mars. As is human nature, they start prodding it with shit.
Surprising absolutely no one, things take a turn for the worse as the alien, dubbed Calvin, quickly grows in size and quickly begins massacring the crew. From here, the story is fairly predictable as the crew attempt different methods of killing the creature and failing, as it continues to go through its life cycle, feed off the humans, and grow in size. Yeah, it’s pretty much Alien, but with a different cool looking monster.
While Life lacks the subtext of Alien, it is able to provide extremely suspenseful moments punctuated by genuinely horrific moments. This isn’t thematically rich horror movie, this is a B-movie creature-feature with a triple A budget. And it works.There’s a lingering sense of dread that persists throughout its runtime. From the beginning, it’s obvious that most, if not all of the crew members are going to be on the receiving end of Calvin’s wrath, painting their fruitless efforts of survival with a feeling of underlying futility. It’s not about if they will die, but when, and how.
The violence in this film is handled very well. While not overly graphic, the film potently conveys the gruesomeness of the alien, to the point where I felt palpable anxiety at some points while anticipating the deaths of the characters. If only I had cared for the characters themselves more.
Life is paced well for the most part, with the exception of the film’s first act, which contains an unneeded over-expository sequence on Earth. After the alien life is discovered, it doesn’t take long in movie time for shit to go sideways. However, in the film, it’s clear that an extended amount of time has passed between discovery and chaos, but that sense of time isn’t felt. Not enough time is dedicated to fleshing out the characters before the violence begins, which takes away from the what should be hard-hitting emotional beats later on They’re all likable enough (not to mention well-performed), but there isn’t much depth to them, sans Gyllenhaal’s David Jordan, who gets the closest to having an actual character arc.
Also worth mentioning is the film’s shoddy sound mixing, which is all over the place. At least in my screening, much of the dialogue in intense scenes was completely drowned out by the rest of the audio. While this might be a bit of a nitpick, it did detract from the film somewhat.
Taken as a whole, Life is obviously derivative of Alien, The Thing, and maybe even Gravity. While it isn’t as good as any of those films, its punchy script (scribed by Deadpool’s Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick), satisfying directing, and admittedly fantastic ending sequence make Life worth checking out. Although, more than anything, Life made me want to watch Alien again.