Home Entertainment Film & Television “Life” is an entertaining hodgepodge of worn sci-fi tropes

“Life” is an entertaining hodgepodge of worn sci-fi tropes

“Life” is an entertaining hodgepodge of worn sci-fi tropes

Life doesn’t have an original bone in it’s body, but at least it’s ripped off the best of it’s ancestors

A group of explorers, all bound on a mission to discover the secrets of outer space, bring an alien life form aboard their ship. Such was ill advised, as interacting with the unknown often is in these movies, as the creature swiftly turns into a Terminator-esque killing machine. Astronauts in these things never seem to find the kindly E.T. variety of aliens wandering the cosmos; odd that.  No, I’m not talking about Ridley Scott’s genre defining Alien–we should all be so lucky–I’m talking about a similarly vague title: Life. If you’ve seen the former, you’ve seen the latter.

Now, to be fair, Alien is not the only film that Life shamelessly rips off; there’s more than a little 2001 in the films dominatingly red color palette and some The Thing style body horror for good measure. To be fair again, it’s not the first film to rip off Alien, nor nearly the worst (2000 Vin Diesel dumpster-fire Pitch Black still carries that honor). But, Life! Come on, man, if you’re going to so blatantly rip-off one of the greatest sci-fi/horrors ever made at least swipe the good parts too! Perhaps the only improvement Life has made to its ancestor is that it gives a reason for the astronauts to bring the life-form back onto their ship; they went out for the purpose of finding extraterrestrial life, it makes sense. I, for one, never understood why the crew of the Nostromo even let John Hurt back on the ship. But I digress.

Another important lesson the Life should have taken from Alien is the latter’s less-is-more approach, especially when it comes to it’s monster (named Calvin; cute, right?).  I maintain that most creatures are a whole lot scarier when you have to imagine what they look like. Calvin is an uninspired creation, evolving from a spore, to a vaguely fish-like creature, to an indefinable mass of tentacles. The R-rated aspects of the film border on gratuity; the cast drop more f-bombs than a pair of teengers playing Call of Duty–because that’s what adults sound like!–and the special effects team seem to be especially proud of their ability to create blood floating in zero gravity.

Jake Gyllenhaal (looking more sunken and haunted everytime I see him) plays our Sigourney Weaver equivalent–a sullen and estranged doctor of…something who has such a disdain for Earth and humans that he’s been living in space so long his muscles have started to atrophy. Relative-newcomer Rebecca Ferguson plays the no-nonsense crew captain, who suggests locking the alien in a room and not opening the door. Ryan Reynolds plays the badass one, who ignores Ferguson’s rather sound advice; there’s one in every movie, you wonder how these guys get government jobs. Gyllenhaal and Reynolds are typically reliable, acting their asses off in underwritten parts, though Ferguson is pretty bland–I’ve seen this actress in a few movies now, I remain unimpressed. The rest of the actors making up the bare-bones crew (Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, and Olga Dihovichnaya) are all much more engaging, one wishes they weren’t all such obvious fodder.

Life is a monster movie above all; there’s no Kubrickian pseudo-philosophy here, none of the deep questions about the human condition that the science fiction usually poses. If you want scares, you’ve got scares. The crew consists of six members, so horror genre familiars will know that at least four of them exist purely to be gruesomely killed (which happens nearly at timed intervals in this movie). The movie consistently proves one thing: death by Calvin is a bad way to go. There’s blood, there’s jump scares, there’s bone-breaking, there’s claustrophobia, there’s a really quite terrifying scene of drowning; you get a lot of bang for your buck here. This movie was released on this weekend specifically as counter-programming for the older crowd who aren’t interested in seeing Power Rangers and that crowd will likely walk-away happy.

The last ten minutes of Life comprise of a very intense last-ditch effort to take down Calvin before it can reach Earth and as a sequence it keeps you on the edge of your seat, though the film ends predictably (yet vaguely; I’m not exactly sure how what happens actually happens) and leaves ample room open for a sequel I’m sure no one will be begging for.

Verdict: Watch Alien, then watch Aliens, then buy a ticket to Life. It’s levels above the rest of the Alien series.

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Ben is a film snob, journalist, performed playwright, and occasional artist. He works several part time jobs because he was foolish and majored in a writing degree. He aspires to be a bona fide film critic and no, he can not just lighten up and enjoy the movie. Stop asking.