Movie Review: Life Wants to Be Alien SO. BAD. But It's Just Another Creature Feature. | Arts
Arts
INDY Week's arts blog

Archives | RSS | Follow on

Friday, March 24, 2017

Movie Review: Life Wants to Be Alien SO. BAD. But It's Just Another Creature Feature.

Posted by on Fri, Mar 24, 2017 at 12:45 PM

click to enlarge PHOTO: COLUMBIA PICTURES
  • photo: Columbia Pictures
Life
★★ ½
Now playing


As a B-minus movie with an A-plus cast, the sci-fi horror specimen Life is the latest in a looong line of films that recycle the same imperishable plot: a group of explorers in a hermetically sealed environment encounters a hostile creature, which sneaks through the facility and picks off the crew one-by-one.

This monster-in-space template has been around since at least 1958 (It! The Terror From Beyond Space) and it was, of course, perfected by Ridley Scott in 1979 with Alien. So, with a movie like Life, it's not a matter of whether it's derivative; it's an issue of how derivative it will be.

If you guessed “shamelessly,” you're a winner! Life lifts entire chunks of Alien, including plot points, creature design, and even the opening title sequence. It's not against the law or anything, but it's enormously distracting.

The deathtrap this time is the International Space Station (ISS), in a near-future setting where the rooms are a little bigger and the technology is a little better. The astronauts have been tasked with retrieving soil samples from an incoming Mars probe, which they hope will finally provide proof of life beyond Earth.

Sure enough, they hit the jackpot when microscopic analysis reveals a single-celled organism frozen in the dirt. After fiddling with the dials, the crew manages to find the right combination of heat, pressure, and glucose to awaken the li'l feller. The alien, nicknamed Calvin, proceeds to get bigger, stronger, and smarter.

Portraying a former military medic still haunted by battlefield trauma, Jake Gyllenhaal has the alpha role in the ensemble cast. Also on board the expanded ISS: Russian actress Olga Dihovichnaya as mission commander; British actor Ariyon Bakare as an exobiologist; Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada as the systems guy; and Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson as the CDC rep. It's an international space station, after all. Oh, Ryan Reynolds is there, too. Briefly.



Director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) provides a promising first act, with carefully crafted dialogue that reveals backstory and primes the audience to think about certain relevant concepts: quarantine protocol, for instance. The early scenes with young Calvin, just a sprout-sized alien, are intriguing. One strange detail, and this will become important later: the scientists note that each cell in the alien entity serves multiple functions. It's all muscle, all brain, and all eyeball.

These weird details are terrific, and Life appears to be trading in sci-fi commodities like compelling characters and novel ideas. But right around the halfway point, the film degenerates into a standard-issue monster movie. Characters make dubious decisions and blood is spilled. Well, spilled isn't the right word. Let's just say that bloodletting gets interesting in zero gravity. Espinosa races from one frantic set piece to the next, and the pacing is all wrong.

A big part of the reason Alien was so scary and effective is because Ridley Scott directed it as a haunted house movie in space. Life goes the other way, opting for the action-movie route. That can be done, too, but James Cameron already did it to near-perfection with Aliens, one of the best sequels ever. Absent any kind of real innovation in style or substance, Life becomes just another creature feature. It's a bummer.

That said, I must concede that Life has a brilliant whopper of an ending. The final sequence is a doozy, and the musical score—a nightmare crescendo of foghorn brass—locks in perfectly with the images and implications presented onscreen. In fact, the ending is so good that, for connoisseurs of the monster movie as a genre, it's worth sitting through the rest of the movie just to get there.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Pin It

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Arts



Twitter Activity

Comments

...as did I, Ms. Margolis -- in a very small handful of moments over a two and a half hour …

by Byron Woods, INDY Theater and Dance Critic on Theater Review: The South Is Hard to Hear in the Opera Version of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain (Arts)

I certainly heard the accents.

by Elizabeth A Margolis on Theater Review: The South Is Hard to Hear in the Opera Version of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain (Arts)

Most Recent Comments

...as did I, Ms. Margolis -- in a very small handful of moments over a two and a half hour …

by Byron Woods, INDY Theater and Dance Critic on Theater Review: The South Is Hard to Hear in the Opera Version of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain (Arts)

I certainly heard the accents.

by Elizabeth A Margolis on Theater Review: The South Is Hard to Hear in the Opera Version of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain (Arts)

Nice write up. Love the twists and turns and I hardily agree with the ultimate statement (and Camus since I …

by Perry on As the Durham Bulls Enter the Playoffs, We Wonder: What Exactly Is the Value of a Minor-League Championship? (Arts)

Just saw this last night. Did Rubin say that being around the Avetts would make life "matter" or just that …

by Drew Rhys on Full Frame: An Avetts Agnostic Finds Some Faith in May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers (Arts)

She made me a peanut butter and banana sandwichwithout bread. Now that's art.

by Geoff Dunkak on ADF Review: Queering Objects and Decoding the Body in Cherdonna's Clock that Mug or Dusted (Arts)

© 2017 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation