I think critics that complain about a film doing something that’s “been done before” don’t really understand that basically everything ever made is copied off of something else. There was a great line from a terrible 2013 movie called “Paranoia” starring Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman; it went something along the lines of everything has been done before, you just don’t know it. The same can be said of “Life,” yeah it looks like “Gravity” mixed with “Alien” and it probably looks like it’s copying too much from the latter film, but let’s be honest, there have been TONS of movies about aliens attacking space crews long before Ridley Scott cranked out a Xenomorph after Sigourney Weaver.
As I said before, the film follows a story we’ve all seen done many times before, but never the less: “Life” deals with a NASA crew of astronauts: Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), Katerina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), and Sho Kendo (Hiroyuki Sanada) discovering a probe containing life from Mars. Upon studying the tiny lifeform (nicknamed Calvin), they soon find out this “tiny” creature has a large growth rate and even larger desire to kill humans. Now the crew is trapped on board with a seemingly unstoppable, highly intelligent organism crawling behind every corner and crevice to hunt down and feast on its discoverers.
While it is true this is very similar to “Alien” and countless sci-fi flicks prior, “Life” still has quite a large number of jarring surprises to throw you for a gravity defying loop. It’s predictable and then completely shocking the next, always juggling between the two erratically. Calvin may be no “The Thing” but its adaptability and evolving design make this creature a fast and lethal movie monster for this space crew to be forced to deal with. The situation and pacing is always escalating; never giving you a minute to breath or any signs of levity because you know that any minute now, this super speedy space octopus is going to some oozing through a vent and tear the next poor soul into floating bits of meat.
Now perhaps I come across as easily entertained by saying this but, I actually am pleased to see this become a monster flick because I was dreading this turning into another “infection” alien virus kind of film like “Apollo 18.” One aspect of the unpredictability I wasn’t too fond of was how it handled its use of actors. Sometimes a likeable character will get killed off too soon or barely shown at all, while less interesting ones stick around longer or still get killed and you find yourself not caring as much. It’s an unfortunate problem because the severity of the situation invokes a more tragic sense of sympathy than you typically get from horror movie characters.
Ryan Reynolds is always a joy to watch, even if he is playing himself essentially, Gyllenhaal got enough time but not enough scripted depth to make the extended air time worth it. Ferguson was okay here but she’s done better, Bakare could have done much considering his role in the film and I was sufficiently pleased with Sanada overall; so overall, a mixed bag of performances. One trope I’m glad they didn’t trip over was the whole “we can’t kill it, we have to study it” BS. Many horror films feature at least one scientist character who blindly ignores the growing body count so they can justify saving a murderous freakshow like it’s the cure for cancer. Once the silent space screams start, they quickly realize they have to kill it and I was glad for that little bit.
I think the main problem “Life” suffers from is it doesn’t try too hard or go very far with its concept. It’s like the film thinks because the story is set only in space on a station that it means the film can’t really go anywhere, which isn’t true but no one seemed to figure that out. Overall, “Life” has a creative and interesting monster with (mostly) interesting actors and characters to face impossible odds trying to kill it. It does step into its own mousetrap a few times and the borderline mix of predictable to unpredictable isn’t varied enough you’re kept guessing too long what’ll happen next. Still, I love a good old fashioned monster flick and still say it’s a fun time to be had by all horror and sci-fi fans. Just like me, you might be surprised.