It really sucks because you can’t make a movie nowadays about something killing people in space without it being compared to Alien or, as is the case most of the time, people accusing it of ripping off Alien. You don’t even have to be in space to do it. Throw an alien in a movie and people start screaming “rip-off” like Alien somehow invented the killer alien genre. Has no one seen the original War of the Worlds? The Thing? The Blob? Spaced Invaders?
So, Life… It’s not an Alien clone. Sure, it’s in space and it has an alien in it, but it’s not a clone. Actually, this is a pretty tense and well-made movie as we watch a group of astronauts managed to wriggle out of a small box and into a smaller one and a smaller one and a smaller one until they’re in a box with no leg room and it’s on fire and sinking in the ocean. That’s a pretty entertaining box to watch.
Sometime in the future when the International Space Station is given an upgrade after NASA is apparently given an infinite budget, the crew of the station capture a probe returning from Mars with a soil sample. Inside that sample, they find a single-celled organism that they coax out of hibernation and, as it grows and show signs of intelligence, it soon grows tired of being in a lab and decides to get out and grab something to eat.
The movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal and other disposable actors including the black guy, the Asian guy, and the Russian woman. It’s not very hard to see who’s going to die based on the cliches and the setups. Very few deaths in this movie are a surprise. Still, it’s a well-made movie and it’s got some very nice effects in it. The tension is very high… even though you know that someone is going to buy the space-farm, they drag it out like a Final Destination movie making you wonder in a mix of horror and glee how the death blow will be delivered.
Many times in the past, I have decried the creation of CGI monsters. In the old days and, mostly out of necessity, movie monsters appeared rarely, cloaked in shadows and showing up in only a few frames. The result would be that the audience’s imaginations would take over and create a monster in their mind scarier than anything the movie could have come up with. Now, the effects team just snots whatever they want on screen, point at it and say, there… be afraid of that.
Most of the time, it’s just ridiculously bad and scares no one.
With Life, they show the monster all of the time in full light and, let me tell you… the thing is actually very menacing. Even when it’s nothing more than a little tentacle in a petri dish, and the cast is laughing at it when it follows a finger, there’s just something about it I didn’t trust and, when it takes its final form, it’s a scary guy. I wouldn’t want to be around it. It’s actually… well, very alien and maybe that’s what’s so unsettling.
An attempt is made to make the characters more than just stops at an alien buffett and, for the most part, the movie is successful. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, strangely enough, is the least defined. He’s not given a backstory, he’s not really given a lot of history… he just hated being on Earth and that’s not much motivation for anything. Life made me want to root for everyone on the station except Jake Gyllenhaal, who came off as some sort of self-superior douche-bag.
Overall, though, it’s a very well-made and mostly successful movie. I have to admit that the creature is scary, the tension is palpable, and I even liked the ending which is something I usually don’t say about movies like this. Life earns its R-rating and all of the goodness that goes with it. The movie stumbles a bit with characterization and pacing, but it’s easy to overlook those flaws. Most of all, it’s not a Alien clone.