The idea of extra-terrestrial life has been the domain of imagination for almost a century. Whether these unknown (or non-existent) entities are friendly, or not, their stories remain interesting despite the overlapping similarities. In 2017, a sci-fi film depicting a relatively grounded look at a cunning organism. One that is a little more bloodthirsty than your average lifeform, in Life.
The crew aboard the International Space Station, risk it all to get a sample from Mars and are thrilled to discover that this sample may contain an amoeba sized entity of life. The entity, dubbed Calvin, responds positively with the crew, at least until one experiment goes wrong. The sentient blob develops a taste for human bones and destroying the bodies of said human as well. With each kill, Calvin’s wits become increasingly developed. As these rational scientists are reduced to irrational wrecks, as the very life that they sought out, starts hunting them one by one.
Life lures you in with its deliberate build-up, we see the daring attempt to rescue the asteroid, the highly pressured bickering for the crew far from home, and the public’s optimistic reaction back on earth. We learn a lot about the dynamic and psychology of the crew; the rivalries, their hopes and what this mission means for the earth. Watching this film, you will be reminded of different sci-fi films from recent cinematic history, and although I have not seen them, I was reminded of films like Gravity, Moon, et al. In short, fictional depictions of space explorations that feel heavily inspired by recent developments in space travel. Borrowing from the recent spate of serious sci-fi certainly gives Life a distinct visual style and quality. One that makes the pressure feel more grounded, and distinct from past alien slashers like Event Horizon and… Alien. Especially with the human drama that the film basks in the first half.
Calvin is a lot more ingenious than the typical ferocious alien parasite, especially considering his prey consists of some of the brightest astronauts that humanity has to offer. The film turns into a game of cat-and-mouse. One where the confines of space and the I.S.S. does not provide too much of a sanctuary. Without getting too deep into spoilers, Life certainly subverts expectations about whom you would think will make it to the end, hammering up the expectations masterfully.
Life manages to make well-worn territory feel fresh and fearful. Borrowing from beloved ideas, from its setting to the fate of its biggest stars and everything in between. The brief dalliances of human drama make compelling viewing just before the onslaught begins. It is kind of comforting to know that the brightest minds would react the same way to you or me when faced with a murderous ball of ooze. If you like the terrifying uncertainty of space, you will enjoy Life, even though it might give S.E.T.I. pause for thought about their grand mission.
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