Life (2017) Directed by Daniel Espinosa. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds. The crew of a space station orbiting Earth must fight for their lives after discovering an evolving and very hostile Martian life form.
The opening shot of “Life,” a lengthy single take that travels through the International Space Station, introduces us to the six person crew of impending alien food.
There’s cocky flight engineer Rory (Ryan Reynolds) who cracks wise and throws caution to the wind, Japanese scientist and father-to-be Sho, Russian station commander Ekaterina, compassionate biologist Hugh, safety protocol officer Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) and loner David (Jake Gyllenhaal) who has spent 400 consecutive days in space and has no interest in returning to Earth.
An incoming space probe containing soil samples gathered on Mars is retrieved from its trajectory and analyzed onboard the station. A microscopic organism is quickly discovered hibernating in the soil, and the station’s resident biologist Dr. Hugh Derry uses atmosphere altering experiments within a sealed observation container to wake the little guy up.
It works, and the translucent creature grows enough to be visible with the naked eye. At first everything is a joyous celebration of an amazing scientific discovery, coupled with the fact that Sho watches his baby daughter being born via Skype on a tablet while he floats through the station. It’s a happy time.
Then, after a group of elementary school students name the Martian life form Calvin during a live Q & A with the crew, the creature falls into a bit of a coma. Hugh decides to use electrical stimulation to shock Calvin back into consciousness.He soon sees the error of his ways and winds up severely injured. The alien cleverly deduces its way out of the sealed quarantine box and consumes a lab rat.
After orally entering a doomed crew member, Calvin transforms from a wispy palm-sized critter to a large cosmic squid that flies around the station giving out unwanted tentacle hugs and gobbling up essential life support components.
And the remaining crew members are forced to face an irrefutable truth: That Cosmic Squid would make a great band name.
With his boneless form, the creature easily squeezes through narrow air ducts and suddenly emerges in unexpected places. He’s from Mars, a tough neighborhood where the gravity is low, and the mostly desert-like surface doesn’t make life easy. If they thought he was just going to roll over and let himself get flamethrowered to death, they obviously weren’t aware of the ancient Martian adage; “Never retreat, never surrender.”
On Mars, flamethrowered is a real word.
Even the deadly vacuum of space doesn’t bother old Cal. He is trapped outside the station at one point and merrily races all over its exterior, looking for a way in. He is, in a word, tenacious. If you were a hiring employer, Calvin would make a fine employee because he has a lot of energy and he always shows up.
The bulk of the film is built around trying to kill the bugger, keeping the station operational and finding a way home without bringing the tentacled monster with them.
Flamethrowers, diversions, airlock depressurization and other fun games have little effect on the beast.
Maybe he’s able to evade death so deftly because he, like us, has already seen dozens of other films that do the same thing much better than “Life.” The obvious elephant in the room is Ridley Scott’s masterpiece “Alien,” but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to isolated settings and extraterrestrial nastiness. And while there’s nothing wrong with going back to the same well, “Life” doesn’t have the spark of originality, or new wrinkle on the old formula beyond an interesting looking creature, to justify its existence.
It isn’t a bad film, nor is it poorly shot. The actors are fine, but it brings us nothing new to mentally chew on.
We know how this game generally plays out, and nothing on-screen is going to throw you for a loop.
If I were setting out to make a new entry in the alien vs. trapped humans subgenre, the first question I would ask myself is “What can I do to set my film apart, to make it more than just forgettably enjoyable?”
No one asked that question here.
I will praise the creature design, though. Most otherworldly enemies in sci-fi flicks are bipeds, like the Xenomorphs or Predator, so Calvin’s legless cephalopod body type stands out. His hollow-eyed serpent-like face is quite menacing, as well. My only issue with him is that he isn’t surrounded by a better movie.