You’ve seen all ‘Life’ has to offer in much better films
After 104 minutes of watching “Life,” I’ve come to two conclusions: Sugar is the bane of all evil, and “Alien” still is one of the best horror movies of all time.
“Life,” directed by Daniel Espinosa (“Safe House” — read the review here), comes with an interesting enough premise: that microscopic life on Mars can help answer all the great questions of the universe, and all we have to do is feed the little treasure some glucose to make it grow.
If you don’t see all the violently dangerous pitfalls that may or may not follow, you haven’t been watching enough horror movies. Or at least “Alien” (read the review here).
But before we get to the obviously about-to-happen chaos (thanks, trailers), we first have to revel in the idea of extraterrestrial life and the splendor of knowing life exists beyond our “pale blue dot.”
The capsule containing the single-cell alien life form, which forever will be known as Calvin, reaches the International Space Station from Mars during a surprisingly tense, dialogue-heavy, completely predictable opening sequence. The little guy quickly captures the entire crew’s attention, though for different reasons throughout. Exobiologist Hugh Derry (Arioyon Bakare) gets first crack at stimulating the dormant alien creature, finally figuring out that glucose makes the little grow — and quite rapidly at that. The rest of the crew — physician David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), engineer Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), microbiologist Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), mission commander Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya) and pilot Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada) — stares on in disbelief. To be honest, they are watching an alien grow with their own eyes.
But, as with just about any other creature humanity has encountered, the Martian comes with a strikingly violent need to survive. And being poked and prodded in a glass box on a space station doesn’t meet that need for Calvin. Long story short, when push comes to shove, Calvin won’t be the first to back down.
At this point in the film, though, any nuance, any fresh material falls to the wayside as “Life” fails to make an impact as strong as similar films (think of the suspenseful horror of the original “Alien” or the graceful beauty in “Gravity” — read the review here). “Life” basically becomes a glorified chase scene in which the big (and growing), bad (and increasingly violent) alien attacks the shockingly inept humans in uncomfortably tight corridors surrounded by the death that is space. You even get alien-vision at some points, showing us what Calvin sees, but the point-of-view switch is so disorienting and confusing, especially at first, it actually distracts more than illuminates. It’s unnecessary to see what the alien sees because you really can’t make the images out anyways.
In the end, “Life” held some promise that quickly slipped away as our least-favorite Martian grew bigger (think of the deadly starfish you’ll ever meet). The first third of the film is the strongest by far, creating a palpable tension that grows almost as fast as Calvin does. But once the danger truly sets in, you will have already noticed all the similarities to much better films. It’s almost as though the director felt as boxed in as the station’s crew; a little more of what the film offered in its final minutes would have gone a long way in sustaining “Life.” As it is, all I can say is: Never break quarantine.
Two “Wait, I’ve seen this before…” stars out of five.