Life is a Fairly Decent Alien Clone
Review by Daniel Rester
Life is yet another sci-fi horror film set in space and featuring a nasty creature trying to kill a crew. So it’s another Alien (1979) clone, never — like so many — able to escape that masterful film’s shadow. But as far as Alien copycats go, Life is actually a fairly decent sci-fi thrill ride.
The set-up is simple enough: a six-member crew aboard the International Space Station intercept material from Mars and find a living organism among it. The strong, squid-like thing gets named Calvin and begins to grow bigger — as does its sense of survival. The members soon find themselves pitted against the creature, trying to destroy it so it won’t reach Earth.
The script of Life is surprisingly basic and self-serious given that writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick penned it; these are the guys who scripted the clever films Zombieland (2009) and Deadpool (2016). The writers do come up with a few interesting ideas — like how a character says Calvin doesn’t hate them but is just trying to survive — but don’t favor the cerebral over the visceral in the long run. The biggest surprise is how flat some of the dialogue is, with expert wordplay usually a given with Reese and Wernick. They do keep the plot moving, though, and they come up with a few eye-opening kill scenes and story twists.
The characters are serviceable, made slightly more interesting by the talented actors playing them. We get Americans David and Rory (Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds), Brits Miranda and Hugh (Miranda Ferguson and Ariyon Bakara), Russian captain Kat (Olga Dihovichnaya), and Japanese technical expert Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada). Each of them have a little development, with David a veteran who’s been in space for over 400 days, Sho a new father, Miranda a doctor and newcomer to the station, and so on. Hugh comes across as the most interesting, as he is a paraplegic biologist who enjoys the zero gravity of space and tries to find connections with Calvin.
Daniel Espinsoa, who made Safe House (2015) and Child 44 (2015), directs Life. Though Espinosa doesn’t have much of a unique filmmaking voice, he knows how to solidly craft scenes and bring a considerable amount of suspense to them. He keeps the story moving at a brisk pace, but he also knows when to slow things down for tension and to let the actors do the work. His visual effects team also does a magnificent job of making the space scenes realistic, with the zero gravity floating especially impressive; the blood and gore are even lent some beauty because of the floating. Only the CGI look of Calvin occasionally comes across as fake to the eye.
Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey does brilliant work here to, getting in some excellent tracking shots — both wide and extremely close up. The opening shot is particularly great, with McGarvey establishing the layout of the ship and its inhabitants while smoothly moving the lens in one seemingly long take. He doesn’t play around with different color palettes as much as he did in, say, Nocturnal Animals (2016), but he does give the images a coolness that make some of them chilling.
Life doesn’t bring much new to the table in terms of ideas for the sci-fi horror genre. But it still does what it does well, offering up solid acting, a polished look, and a handful of tense and thrilling scenes. It’s not on the exceptional level of Alien, but I’ve also seen much worse in terms of films that have copied that one.
My Grade: B (on an F to A+ scale).
My Viewing Scale: Skip It, Wait for Cable or Netflix Streaming, Wait for Blu-ray or VOD Rental, Worth Matinee Movie Ticket, Worth Full-Price Movie Ticket
MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout, some sci-fi violence and terror).