Cynicism and Space Horror - 'Life' Movie Review
“An alien civilization reading one of our messages could be billions of years ahead of us. If so, they will be vastly more powerful, and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria.”
The quote is from Stephen Hawking, at a time where he seems to be speaking more from the standpoint of a sci-fi movie spectator than a knowledge-hungry scientist. The fear of the imminent unknown has been a recurring theme in sci-fi, especially that which flirts with horror.
In Life, there is space horror, the dark mix of claustrophobia and agoraphobia, empathic humans and a hostile extraterrestrial creature growing and ripping crew members apart.
Yes, Life is an absurdly obvious derivative Alien movie. But it's a worthy derivative Alien movie. With small changes to the formula, a talented cast and a smart direction by Daniel Espinosa, Life does enough to make the viewer end up with a solid "not bad" face, which is way more than commercial movies achieve these days.
The story, by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, begins positively, without a dystopia or a dramatic Space challenge necessary for the survival of the human race. This is a healthy NASA scientific mission, which goal is receiving and analyzing a probe containing soil sample from Mars.
Our crew is small but with personality. There is Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada who already played another version of this character in Sunshine), Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson), Katerina (Olga Dihovichnaya), Hugh (Ariyon Bakare), Rory (Ryan Reynolds) and David (Jake Gyllenhaal). One Japanese, two Americans, two British and one Russian. They're the scientific, so-called "first world" vanguard of the humanity.
The sample arrives and our crew discovers life in a small cell that quickly grows into a small multi-celled organism. Thanks to a cute contest between American schools back on earth, the organism receives the adorable name of "Calvin".
That, along with the title of the film are the only dark humor attempts by Reese and Wernick, who, distancing themselves of the tone of previous works like Zombieland and Deadpool, use in Life the opportunity to explore drama, horror, and cruelty. In other words: They get quite creative torturing our protagonists.
Because, of course, Calvin keeps growing. Quickly, it surprises the whole crew with an impressively hostile attitude and an advanced intelligence capable of solving problems and overcoming obstacles.
Unlike Alien, in Life there are no androids or artificial intelligence enforcing the greed of a multinational Weyland-Yutani-like corporation. If anything, NASA wants nothing to do with Calvin if hostile. In that respect, Life is more pure and simpler. This is a battle between two species that in order to survive need to extinguish the life of the other.
What's Your Rating For Life?
The crew not only wants to survive the threat but wants to make sure that Calvin never crosses Earth's atmosphere. That dramatic tension is remarkably engaging and makes us forget, for a while, the existence of the many other vastly superior space horror films.
At some point, Hugh glimpses the undeveloped motif of the film in one of his philosophical musings / weird parental love for Calvin: "Life's very existence requires destruction." It's a deeply cynical phrase that leaves no room for sustainable development, much less for extraterrestrial contact.
And that's where Life gets its place (a small place, but a place anyway) in the pantheon of "quality-approved" films. Espinosa pushes the pedal to the metal into the cruelest horror and doesn't look back. The outcome, scored by Jon Ekstrand from the depths of hell, is a cheap but wonderfully effective blow.
Release Year: 2017
Director(s): Daniel Espinosa
Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds a.o.
© 2019 Sam Shepards