Six astronauts on board the International Space Station orbit Earth, waiting to receive the samples from a rover’s latest Mars mission. But one of the samples contains life…
What starts as a single-cell organisim, whose single-cell is capable of all cellular functions, quickly grows, becoming larger and smarter with every passing moment. And it doesn’t take many of those moments for the alien, named Calvin, to turn murderous. It’s no surprise to the audience, and given the response of Rebecca Ferguson’s safety officer/microbiologist, it isn’t really a surprise to the officials down on Earth either. Maybe everyone down at NASA has seen Alien.
Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare and Olga Dihovichnava star as the ill-fated astronauts. The cast is strong, and they work hard with the flimsy plot they’ve got. The dialogue and characterisation is engaging, and alongside the generic tension of the sci-fi thriller setting, it’s enough to make Life rip along at an enjoyable pace. There plenty of jump scares set up, but they’re also telegraphed that any fan of the genre will spot them, and the twists and turns they carry, from five minutes away. Slick visuals show the mechanics of the ship, Calvin’s growth and Earth from the stars. The final sequence does earn its high tension, thanks to the inevitability of it, as well as the acting of the final two characters. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that the film opts for the horror movie ending rather than the science fiction one. Make no mistake, this film is generic B-movie stuff, served by the science fiction tropes of the 2010s. The zero gravity makes Calvin swim through spaces that humans look unnatural in, and the thick black void of space peers in through the small windows. You could describe this film purely through listing the films it parrots – Gravity, Sunshine, Alien, The Thing, even The Martian. It’s enjoyable but it’s not breaking any new ground.
One thing that wasn’t addressed by the film, and that doesn’t appear to have been picked up on in many reviews yet either, is that for the most part Calvin is goaded into becoming violent, and subsequently murderous. It’s Ariyon Bakare’s shocking of the alien that incites Calvin into latching onto his hand, the mouse nipping at Calvin’s touch causes it to crush it, and it’s Ryan Reynold’s frantic attempts at destroying it that lead Calvin to seek out and kill all the life on the station. Perhaps this violence is a learned behaviour, rather than an inherent one.
However, perhaps the most interesting thing about this movie, aside from the mindless pleasure of watching it, is a theory that’s been circulating. The theory goes that Life is a sneaky prequel to the Venom film, which was recently given a release date (5 October 2018). Given that Life was written by Rhett Reece and Paul Wernick, who have also worked on comic book films previously, it’s not too outrageous, and it helps that Wernick has refused to rule out the possibility. Director Daniel Espinosa is certainly chuffed about it, having gone on record as a big comic, and Marvel, fan. But as nice, and interesting, the possibility is, it seems pretty unlikely. Sony (the production company behind the upcoming Venom) have dismissed it, and despite a recent trend of loosely connecting horror movies into a single universe, the connection between Life and Venom seems too subtle for the comic book genre.
Life is in cinemas now.