Humanity has an inauspicious introduction to an alien organism in the sci-fi/horror movie ‘Life’

May 17, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 17, 2017

The grandly named 2017 movie Life is a grimly efficient horror flick set aboard the International Space Station in the near future. I use the word flick advisedly: This is a B-movie premise mounted on a very respectable $58 million budget.

The space station’s six-person course — ah, I mean crew — is working on a project called Pilgrim, in which an automated probe is returning Martian rock and soil samples to near-Earth orbit for analysis and experimentation. Matters get off to a rocky start when the probe is damaged by debris, which leads to a hair-raising high-speed rendezvous.

But that’s nothing compared to what happens when exobiologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) discovers that one of the samples contains a dormant single-celled organism. Once Derry brings the laboratory chamber’s temperature and atmosphere to Earth-like conditions, the microscopic creature begins first moving and then multiplying.

Humanity is captivated by the discovery, and an overjoyed elementary-school student names the life form Calvin on a live broadcast. No one is happier than Derry — although he and his crewmates will soon come to regret their finding.

Before too long, Calvin breaks containment and begins to feed. The life form exhibits a flexibility, fierceness and bottomless appetite reminiscent of The Blob. It’s also capable of digesting anything from the carbon-based life forms aboard the station to the fuel and coolant that help the satellite protect its human inhabitants from the harsh environs of space.

Predictably, Calvin picks off the crew one by one. But director Daniel Espinosa (Safe HouseChild 44) and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (the team that scripted ZombielandG.I. Joe: Retaliation and Deadpool) throw in just enough surprises to keep the audience on its toes. I was never entirely sure where, when or how the next attack was going to come, and the finale involves some artful misdirection that plays off of audience expectations built up by Alfonso Cuarón’s 2013 movie Gravity. The picture also fades out on a memorable final shot that mirrors the act of fertilization.

Other than David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), a former military surgeon traumatized by the atrocities he saw in the global war on terror, the crew gets little in the way of characterization. Still, the space station is staffed by intelligent, responsible adults, and even though they sometimes make bad decisions, their reasons for doing so are understandable. Fortunately the cast — including Olga Dihovichnaya as Kat, the station commander; Rebecca Ferguson as Miranda, the quarantine officer; Hiroyuki Sanada as Sho, the station’s main engineer; and Ryan Reynolds as Rory, the cocksure handyman — are skilled enough to make their astronauts likeable, even though we don’t know much about them.

Calvin itself is mostly silent, but for an odd hissing noise or two, but it projects a definite air of malice — one that escalates throughout the show as the Martian menace grows in size and takes on an increasingly complex shape with every appearance.

Life is obviously hasn’t set the world on fire; the movie, released nearly two months ago, only pulled in about $30 million in U.S. ticket sales. Nevertheless, this is a pretty fine entry in the science fiction horror subgenre, one that niche fans should enjoy tremendously.

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