Review: ‘Life’ 2017 (Alien plus Gravity equals Meh)

Remember how you felt at the end of that 2001 Tim Burton remake of Planet of the Apes starring Mark Wahlberg?

Onboard the International Space Station, a crew of six astronauts (Hiroyuki Sanada, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Olga Dihovichnaya, and Ariyon Bakare) have been tasked with the recovery and study of a Martian soil sample. Closer examination yields a curious find: a dormant single-cell organism. With containment procedures and established firewalls in places, the sample is awakened, nurtured, and begins to grow… proof of life beyond our own world. Unfortunately, when the subject of the experiment falls inexplicably dormant again, the sample — named Calvin by students on Earth below — decides it doesn’t like being prodded… or held captive by humans who too foolish to realize how intelligent, adaptable, and dangerous it can be in full-on survival mode.

All the hardware of our current space program plus a slightly futuristic yet real possibility: life from the stars. Is it a Martian or did it land there holding onto a meteorite? This concept could do for the search for extraterrestrial life what Contagion did for containment of an outbreak: a worthwhile look into how all the thought-out think-tank safety protocols would be used to preserve society as we know it. Unfortunately, the later trailers moved away from that suggestion and toward a CGI-enhanced bug hunt with all the trappings. Is the truth somewhere between these two ideas, or did the filmmakers always intend to go all-in with the sci-fi horror movie concept?

There’s a reason all six actors in this production are listed together: they’re one-note characters with a single bullet-point backstory designed to keep us guessing which one will die next. Any and all character development is in the trailer, little more than a line of dialog that the individual actors were likely supposed to add something to. Reynolds predictably loses his cool at the wrong possible moment — a trait that would bar him from any recommended space travel ever — while Gyllenhaal is the most emo astronaut ever. If all of this isn’t clear, here’s the spoiler: the alien is more interesting than all of them combined. Hell, they should have told the story from its point view from the beginning!

If you’ve seen Sandra Bullock’s Gravity, you already have a checklist of what goes wrong. If you’ve seen Alien, you already have checklist of what Calvin is capable of… with a few clever twists, to be fair. The real story, however, is that stupid humans took a critter they knew nothing about and pissed it off, effectively earning every damn thing that happens to them. If the movie had even gone in that direction, it might have been salvagable, but every story point is generated from one unlikely worst-case scenario to the next, whether the humans continue doing stupid things or Karma just has its way. It all feels like what it is: an alien horror disaster movie written by committee to hit all the favorite bullet points, a failure do almost anything original with what could have been high-concept drama sneaked over the line as a horror movie.

This even continues into the ending, one final false manipulation of what we’ve already been told couldn’t happen or shouldn’t have happened, yielding eye rolls instead of gasps. Who thought this was a great way to waste these actors and an entire budget? That it was released unceremoniously in late March indicates the studio had some idea this turkey couldn’t get off the ground under its own power.

Life is rated R for language throughout, some sci-fi violence, terror, and the inability to get a hundred minutes of your own life back.

1 Skull Recommendation Out of Four


About Grim D. Reaper

Host of With my likeness being used in hundreds of films without permission, film critique isn’t dead until I SAY it is.
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