Or Something Like It

Life is all right but I’d rather re-watch Alien

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Life
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It’s nearly 40 years old but 1979’s Alien is still the standard for horror in space. Alien operates at an unprecedented high level that might never be matched, and every vaguely scary science fiction flick will be measured against it. None beat it and even fewer are truly original.

Life knows it can’t compete, so it’s happy to deliver mild thrills at a decent pace.

The plot: the crew of the International Space Station makes the discovery of a lifetime when they find a single-celled organism in samples of Martian soil. The first red flag comes from the quick development of the creature, a cross between a starfish and an octopus. The fact the head scientist is infatuated with the thing (nicknamed “Calvin”) also doesn’t bode well for the future of the team.

Life deserves kudos for its staging of the many showdowns between the crew and Calvin. There are a couple that are truly nightmarish, especially if closed spaces scare you. But as the novelty wears off and scientific-speak gets in the way of the action, Life becomes predictable, including a final twist so poorly executed one could see it coming from miles away.

Also, anyone who has seen horror movies can guess the order the astronauts will bite the dust. Ryan Reynolds isn’t third-billed just for kicks.

The movie’s design and effects aren’t bad, but Life lacks the tactile aspect of Alien and the chaotic elegance of Gravity. As realistic as it all looks, one can’t shake the notion it’s CGI. You wouldn’t notice in a better movie. And if you’re mildly familiar with biology, there are things in Life that will make you cringe in embarrassed disbelief (and we’re talking elementary school level).

Better character development could’ve elevated Life above second-rate. Every so often, the movie pauses to ponder the meaning of existence and poor Jake Gyllenhaal is forced to deliver lines like “it’s hard to watch people die” or find an epiphany in “Goodnight Moon”. It’s fine skipping the “getting to know you” part, but spare me the lecture. ❧