★★★ out of ★★★★★
An entertaining and convincing, but conventional space horror outing.
Life was a movie that had a lot going for it. It had a star-studded cast, including Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Hiroyuki Sanada. The movie had a decent budget of $58 million and it was clearly well spent on the special effects (and the cast.) The movie, however, barely broke even, with a worldwide box office that came in at about $100 million. The movie moved at a nice pace, and clearly was trying to find a niche in the “plausible” hard sci-fi realm, of which there are sadly few of. Alien and the Thing being the obvious and prominent representatives of the type, and this film clearly takes its notes from those films. It also borrows from the cheesier fare, like The Blob, one of my guilty pleasure films.
The movie tells the story of an international space station crew, that has retrieved an organism from Mars, and in a rare bout of common sense, determines to research this alien on the station, so as not to potentially infect Earth. So far, so good. A little girl on Earth dubs the creature “Calvin”, and the name sticks. Not surprisingly, Calvin proves to be a rapid grower and isn’t fond of being poked and prodded. And, it also proves to be nearly indestructible, and I would suggest that is one of the bigger weaknesses of the film, which tries its hardest to appear realistic, down to the quite nicely done zero gravity effects.
The critter is at its scariest when it is small. Once it gets bigger… it loses some of the plausibility that they were shooting for. The motivation is clearly survival, and you can’t help but empathize a little with the mega-paramecium that it becomes, as the crew turns on it, and tries to burn it, freeze it, and otherwise rid themselves of Calvin. The movie then becomes a fairly routine cat and mouse game with Calvin picking off the crew one by one, as they desperately try and come up with an escape plan.
The film is burdened with a very linear script and many of the kills are telegraphed. (Except for the first one, which surprised the heck out of me.) The story just feels a bit too familiar. Movies like most of the Alien sequels, Species, Mimic, and yes… the Blob… all bear similar patterns. How many times do we need to have a quarantine scene where the cast debates whether to break quarantine or not? “OPEN THE DOOR, IT’S GOING TO KILL HIM!” Yep. Seen that scene before. They also tried to go for a Twilight Zone-like switcheroo ending, but for anyone familiar with the genre, it was as predictable as a marching band coming down Main Street.
All that said, there’s enough good in the film to recommend seeing it. I actually enjoyed this more than I did Alien Covenant, which was released a couple months after Life. By way of comparison, the characters and the plot are much more believable than Alien Covenant. I also believe it’s good to encourage the movie producers to invest in well-produced movies with strong casts at medium-sized budgets. Stephen King’s It proved what can be done with the proper script. Life needed a little finer tuning on the plot, and a slightly less durable critter, and it could have been a classic.