Not to be confused with BBC’s Life and the soothing narration of Sir David Attenborough. No, this sci-fi Life is entirely different. For starters, it takes place off-planet and is limited to two species. It’s true both features share the belief that humans aren’t the only intelligent lifeforms; but the sci-fi Life delivers a strong message that inter-species friendships are for baby books. Good night room, good night moon, good night intelligent lifeform that attacks like a rabid baboon.
The International Space Station is a perfect example of nations working together for the progress of universal discovery. Presently (in Life, not real life), it is occupied by Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson), David (Jake Gyllenhaal), Ekaterina (Olga Dihovichnaya), Rory (Ryan Reynolds), Hugh (Ariyon Bakare), and Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada) – all experts in areas from engineering, to plumbing, to worst-case-scenario-planning. On day one, the Space Station catches a shuttle returning from Mars loaded with soil samples. Hugh – the bio guy – gets to work injecting the samples with goo and nestling them in Petri dishes. The human habit of poking things with sticks pays off and Hugh discovers a single-celled organism within the dirt. Humans gather at Times Square to name the alien Calvin, and all rejoice in the milestone achievement. By day 23, Calvin looks like a cross between a flower and an octopus, and Hugh is eager to point out how curious it is. How endearing. Rory is not so sure and you can sense his relief when an accident cuts off oxygen to Calvin’s lab and puts the creature in a hibernated state. To bring it back, Hugh does the human thing and pokes it with another stick – an electric stick. Calvin thanks him with a handshake – a rather firm handshake – and the rest, as they say, is Sigourney Weaver in space.
It’s safe to say the alien does all the typical alien stuff. It grows quickly, it has an inconvenient diet, and its strange form makes it surprisingly agile in a facility designed for humans. Why can’t the alien ever be a thick, clumsy cube with whiskers? Life is careful to note Calvin’s weaknesses, use these weaknesses against it, be shocked when the plan fails, then try the same scheme again with different results (because the show’s been running for a while and we need to wrap it up). Calvin evolves in mysterious ways, treading the line between bloodthirsty parasite and intelligently adaptable pet. Being a blob of muscle/nerve/brain I was surprised on a number of occasions when:
- Calvin couldn’t figure out a door handle but could pry at a hinge
- Calvin – the giant nerve – brushed off a flamethrower
- Calvin never learned how to fly the ship
But that alien sure knows how to pack a day with fun. The crew chase Calvin around the station, quarantining it where possible and flailing/screaming madly when it jumps out of the darkness and clings to a pant leg. There are some strong parallels between their desperation and what happens when I find a spider in my room. The flamethrower is a natural next step. Calvin is a slippery little bugger and inconveniently maneuvers the Station, blessed with luck and highly resilient genes.
In respect of spoilers I can’t tell you who gets offed first, but I can tell you it’s gruesome. No one drifts off into the peaceful beyond. Calvin is a creative leech and can cause death by asphyxiation, blood loss, entrapment, or swaddled in sneeze. Very gross. As it can pop out of nowhere and fit just about anywhere, Calvin is the stuff of nightmares and an undeniable source of the heebie-jeebies. The crew are understandably terrified but heroic in their efforts to stay alive (where possible) and keep the swelling specimen from reaching earth.
Life is only 103 minutes but the anxiety and paranoia it breeds make it feel a fair bit longer. The crew don’t offer many creative solutions, aside from trying the same thing from different angles; but there is creativity in Calvin’s hunting methods. I was on board from the start, thinking that jettisoning this octovermin into space would be the best option for humanity, and I eagerly followed the crew as they dodged the flying scourge all the way to the airlock. But the last two minutes of the movie dropped Life a full two points in this review. Because of the ending, I hated the movie. The seven dwarves don’t hack Snow White to pieces after she cleans their house and a filmmaker shouldn’t expect an audience to be gung-ho with such a twist. Not cool. Because of this mean slant on a satisfying conclusion, Life crawls to a 5.5/10.