One of the best and most influential films of all time is Alien. While there was certainly sci-fi horror films before it, this was the movie that planted the genre in everyone’s minds as something we had to watch. Of course the second a movie does well, rip-offs are sure to follow and Alien isn’t without its legion of immitators. That doesn’t mean you should write off any film that should terrify you in space. Many were intense and while they were obviously inspired by Alien and it’s sequels, they were able to carve out their own identities. Event Horizon for instance is a well-liked films in some quarters and is obviously inspired by Alien but doesn’t directly rip it off. But can Life be the latest sci-fi horror to escape the shadow of Alien?
A team of scientists find themselves on board the International Space Station doing what is a fairly standard mission. However they make the scientific breakthrough of the century when they capture a probe that contains a bundle of cells that prove that there is life on Mars. These cells, named Calvin, grow though and start to kill members of crew, meaning it is a race against time to make sure it doesn’t reach Earth.
And boy, is this film so Alien. When you get the film down to it’s bare basics, it is about a crew of people trying to kill a seemingly invincible unknown alien. And yes, that is also the plot of pretty much every Alien film as well. But the question is, does it manage to create its own identity? Like I mentioned at the top, Event Horizon started off feeling very much like Alien before doing it’s own crazy thing. Unfortunately, Life does not do that. it’s basically this weird little alien creature growing and trying to kill the crew so it can eat them. Every second of this movie exists and relishes in the shadow of Alien; and while I will be going on to say some nice things about the film, that’s something it never quite gets over.
That feels like a very harsh way to start the review because it’s not all bad as the film does deliver some solid horror scares. The reason so many have ripped off the Alien premise is because it works. Trapping a ragtag bunch of characters in a claustrophobic environment with a killer is just automatic scary as long as you don’t do anything stupid, and this film is fairly smart. The characters don’t do anything incredibly stupid, though they occasionally need to be dumber than they actually are so the plot can progress. Just standard horror stuff really and this movie does that well.
But where the movie really excels is when it tries to properly gross you out. When Calvin first decides he hates humans and is going to kill us, the way he simply destroys the hand of scientist Hugh (Ariyon Bakare, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell) is the perfect way to introduce the malevolent side of the alien. It is incredibly gruesome to watch because of the way the bone breaks and how the camera refuses to turn away from what is going on. It manages to make you hide behind the sofa without resorting to chucking a load of gore at the screen as well, which is something to admire as well. The film does do a few other bits like this, Calvin likes going in and out of orifices, but it should have done more as it’s the main strength of the movie.
And let’s talk about Calvin for a bit. The alien creature is basically just a bundle of cells that grows the more it kills, which means it has a solid reason for it’s mass slaughter of the ISS. When it does grow massive as more and more people end up falling for it, it turns into this weird squid like creature and that’s when it starts to become very disappointing as a monster. When it’s small but has incredible strength, it’s a rather unique monster which could jump out on them at any minute and start wrecking everyone in the room. When it’s massive, it’s like every other space monster you’ve seen.
This cast of characters are very boring as well. They’ve got a lot of talented performers in to try and give this ensemble a bit of life, with Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko) and Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) all doing the best they can to imbue their characters with a bit of personality. Unfortunately, the script does not give them very much to work with. Not one of the characters are the faintest bit interesting at any second of this flick, reverting to the various jobs they have and the accents they speak with. And thank god a load of the characters are different nationalities because that at least allows us differentiate them all. These guys are seriously as bland as wallpaper paste and it’s very obvious they are just alien chum. You wouldn’t give them a second glance if you passed them in the street.
Life isn’t a terrible film. If you need a few scares to entertain you at home on a Friday night, this is a perfectly serviceable movie. It’s reasonably well directed and the atmosphere is decently creepy, plus the film is incredibly tough to watch at times because it’s not afraid to show how nasty Calvin is. But the film is so similar to Alien you do end up watching wondering why you aren’t watching that movie instead. Because that film is a classic while this one is merely alright.
Don’t give it a second thought, watch Alien instead.