Life (2017)

As VERY obvious ‘Alien’ clones go…this one is a mostly competent and serviceable imitation that’s pretty enjoyable in the moment, but probably won’t stick with you for too long after the credits roll…despite a ‘shock’ twist ending that actually worked for me (predictability aside). If you’re a fan of…well…’Alien’ (1979)…and other like-flavored genre entries such as ‘The Thing (1982), ‘Leviathan’ (1989), and ‘The Abyss’ (1989)…with a lil ‘Gravity’ (2013) thrown in, ‘Life’ will probably entertain you for it’s 1 hour 43 minute run-time. And those with a ‘knowing’ eye will pick-out the homages / rip-offs with relative ease.
‘Life’ takes place in what I can only imagine is the near-future, where the 6 man crew of the International Space Station have been tasked with the recovery of a returning satellite from Mars that carries samples of Martian soil which MAY hold evidence of life. After the harrowing capture of the probe, they set to work on the detailed analysis of the samples. In short order…clear-cut evidence of cellular life is found. In true Movie Scientist fashion…they begin dicking around with the single-cell alien…and, naturally, it reacts. While it demonstrates a degree of increasing intelligence and cunning, it also begins to grow, eventually escaping confinement and endangering everybody’s lives.
For a modestly-budgeted flick, if around $58 million can be considered modest, the effects are solid, as they need to be for a movie like this. I was impressed with a lot of the visuals and production design on display, especially where the zero-G aspect came into play. I made an earlier comparison to ‘Gravity’, and this is definitely not by accident. If you recall the feeling of realism they attempted with THAT flick, you’ll have a good idea of what you’re going to get here. This also extends to the alien creature that they accidentally unleash on themselves. I did like how it’s existence came about and how the flick got to the point, where the creature action was concerned, fairly quickly. Now having mentioned the beast, which, at least for a while, was an interesting cross between an aggressive sea star and a jellyfish, further analyzing it does start to show some of the issues I had with ‘Life’, which I might as well get into now.
There’s a decent amount of ‘good’ in this flick, but there are also some glaring plot-holes that had both my buddy and I scratching our heads when we emerged back into daylight. To give an example, when the team are conducting their experiments on the creature, they clearly establish that it’s a cellular organism, similar to the alien monster in John Carpenter’s classic 1982 remake, ‘The Thing’. Any separate piece is a full entity…or at least that’s how it sounded. But…when the lil bastard starts to take shape, it very clearly has little demonic eyes…when they made of point of saying it didn’t need any! This also applies to an elaborate sequence where the alien is trapped outside the ISS, searching for a way in while seemingly not being affected by the lack of atmosphere, the extreme temperatures, or lethal radiation…but only a short time later, suddenly the survivors are counting on it being taken down by no air…when we clearly saw it flitting around outside with NO FUCKING PROBLEMS at all!! It was like the writers (who also wrote the terrific ‘Deadpool’, incidentally) couldn’t stick to their own rules and it was noticeable. Hell, there was some question about how many friggin aliens there even were. Unless a key scene was cut (entirely possible), it seemed like suddenly…there were two of them! They’re all worried about the one outside or whatever…and “Oh my god!!”…there’s (another?) one in with them too!!…I think. While what they gave us did LOOK good…the script or the final cut seems like it could’ve used another touch-up before release.
Speaking of ‘Deadpool’, fans of Ryan Reynolds should NOT get too excited about him leading the charge in this one. Even though he’s technically third billed, his role is nearly a glorified cameo. This MAY be something of a SPOILER…but he checks out fairly early. I’ll give him this, though…the way he goes was fairly effective and cringe-worthy. As for the rest of the cast, this flick definitely belongs to Jake Gyllenhaal (‘Donnie Darko’) and Rebecca Ferguson (‘Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation’). Movie buffs may also recognize Hiroyuki Sanada from his role as another doomed astronaut in 2007’s underrated space adventure ‘Sunshine’. Everyone is fine and they do well with what they have, but what they have is admittedly fairly thin, as characterization goes. We get just enough to accept them as characters in this setting, but not enough to really feel it when the shit hits the fan.
All in all, ‘Life’ was a perfectly serviceable sci-fiction thriller for a rainy Sunday afternoon, a thriller that boasted some solid effects and sequences of suspense and action, but was somewhat diluted by a script that ignored some of it’s own rules and was missing a few narrative connections. I’ll give it credit by saying that I think some of the sloppiness of the 2nd Act is forgivable in light of what I thought was an effective ‘twist’ ending (that was probably predictable, but I just went with it), that could either set up a whole new movie, or be left darkly ambiguous. It also doesn’t seem like this one was set up for a 3D release, which I think is a shame because there are a number of sequences that, if handled right, could’ve added to the ‘thrill’ element via the 3rd Dimension. If you need SOMETHING to check out on The Big Screen in the next while and are a fan of the ‘deadly alien creature on the loose’ story-line, I think you’ll have a good time with this one. That being said…it could just as easily work on Netflix too.

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