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


  1. Can we talk about how unrealistic it was for the crew to try desperately to save the contaminated and nearly dead? 90% of this was one member yelling to another member to hold on and stock characters thinking they should override safety measures. He’s our friend and he’s now covered in ET we have to pull him back inside with us!


    • No one on that mission would have passed a psych eval to be authorized to man the ISS… and don’t get me started on “the twist ending you won’t see coming.” SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER: You can’t accidentally land a capsule bumped off course heading for deep space, but that critter MIGHT have survive reentry even if the capsule didn’t. Bleh!


  2. I should have read this review before wasting a few hours of my life (guffaw) on this. I’m always up for twisted endings but this one was exceedingly unsatisfying.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This review couldn’t be more wrong in my view. He’s just blowing it out based on being cynical and jaded to what sci-fi horror is supposed to do. Fill you with dread and make you think we’re screwed if this happens. The characters are supposed to be invisible in this. Just move the alien dread narrative along, They did that well enough. The alien was creepy as hell even if it seemed implausible. I felt like the stuff was happening to me in the film. Most films like this don’t get me to feel that, and they HAVE good character development and back stories etc. Think of the effects in this-in BRIGHT light. Other films laden with effects hide everything. They say it was dark to make you feel scared. Total bull. A good scary effect works with enough light to see someone’s face. This movie was darn good for what it was. Popcorn fun with a little leakage in your pants on a Saturday night.


    • Agreed… they created an atmosphere. Sci-fi and horror don’t have to go together, but the premise of the film is flawed from the beginning. It wouldn’t have taken alot to fix most of the issues, but people being foolish, especially in space, is both ridiculous and insulting. The characters are disposable, true enough… but then why have so many decent actors play them? I stand by my opinion: this was a missed opportunity that could have been so much better, but I’m happy if you got your money’s worth. Thanks for reading… mortal.


Speak up, Mortal -- and beware of Spoilers!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s