Like so many great films, Alien spawned a whole slew of imitators over the years. The latest of which is Life, the new film directed by Daniel Espinosa and scripted by Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. That’s not a knock against this film. As the saying goes, clichés become clichés because they work. (A saying which itself has become a cliché.) Life is an obvious knockoff of Alien, but it’s a damn entertaining knock off. This is a science fiction film that doesn’t seem to have much on its mind and that’s not a hindrance as Life plays out at a brisk pace within the confines of its genre and delivers sharp, biting moments of terror…in space!
An international crew of six – David (Jake Gyllenhaal), Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson), Roy (Ryan Reynolds), Kat (Olga Dihovichnaya), Hugh (Ariyon Bakare), and Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada) – aboard the International Space Station have just received a capsule containing samples from Mars. Buried within those samples is a one-celled organism that represents the first proof of life on another planet. Hugh massages the being out of hibernation, and quickly discovers that it’s not a one-celled organism but a form of life that is unlike anything any discovered, comprised of cells that . It’s named Calvin during a publicity stunt in a satellite link with Earth, and Hugh quickly becomes heavily invested in the alien lifeform. Can you guess what happens next? It turns out that this alien lifeform isn’t exactly nice and it could very well threaten life on Earth if it were ever to reach our atmosphere.
Life opens with Espinosa’s camera floating in zero gravity like its character, hiding edits as it glides around presenting the illusion of a single lengthy shot. The film gives us enough of an introduction to these characters without getting too invested in unnecessary backstory. After all, most of these characters are just fodder ready to be ravaged by an alien. Ryan Reynolds is the comedy relief, cracking wise as usual, while Jake Gyllenhaal is the doctor disillusioned with Earth and Rebecca Ferguson is so prepared that her backup plans have backup plans. We get just enough sense of who these people are that we’re invested when everything goes to hell.
Once the alien known as Calvin goes on its rampage, Life keeps a tight grip on the audience’s attention by constantly raising the stakes. The creature itself is an interesting creation, looking like an overgrown microorganism that can slither its way in and out of tight spaces. Calvin slithers in and out of the International Space Station while the characters scramble for ways to stop the thing. The events are never bogged down with deadening exposition as the audience is learning about the creature at the same time as the characters, maintaining the suspense throughout.
A no-nonsense space thriller, Life works because it’s simply a lean, mean piece of horror filmmaking. It doesn’t have any pretensions about it. This is a movie that is simply intending to grab you by the throat and never let you go. Sure, Life is simply an Alien knockoff, but it doesn’t screw up the formula and proves there’s still plenty of life left in the template.
A knockoff of Alien, Life is a thrilling piece of filmmaking that isn’t bogged down by pretensions as it unfolds in a non-stop suspenseful thrill ride.