This post was originally published on News Cult in March 2017.

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: R for Beautifully Disturbing Blood Loss

Release Date: March 24, 2017

The paradox of life is that it requires death to be sustained. The paradox of Life is that its successes and failures are both technical, with staging both skillful and sloppy alternately sustaining and choking itself. This combination corresponds thematically with the story, but I do not think it is intentional, and it is frustrating regardless. This is a locked-room creature feature that does not show its hand too early. Once it does, it knows how to drag out the tension, but it also occasionally forgets that knowledge.

The premise here is ideal for instant dread. A six-person crew on board the International Space Station meets a life form that has hitched a ride on a returning Martian probe. Dubbed “Calvin” by a group of stargazing schoolchildren, the creature starts out microscopic but soon starts growing to the point that it is no longer a curiosity and more a threat. I know what you’re thinking: this is Alien, but in space … er, a different part of space. A part of space where your screams can be heard, if only all communication – as is so often the case – had not immediately been destroyed.

There is no escaping the comparisons to Ridley Scott’s extraterrestrial horror landmark, but Life does distinguish itself with plenty of philosophical thought lent to the creature concept. Each cell of Calvin has the capacity to fulfill any bodily function. It eventually grows to resemble a crystalline starfish, but it is very much its own new frontier, with its entire body (if that is even the right word) serving as mouth, hands, legs, and whatever else it can use to survive. Also, when it comes down to the resolution, this is more The Thing than Alien. The ISS is not in deep space, but rather close Earth orbit, so if Calvin is not suppressed, there is a very real chance he could consume the whole planet. Life does not shy away from just how nasty that implication is.

The devilish little monster flick that Life mostly succeeds at being is constantly interrupted by a survival tale that fails because no character has any room to come across as a fully realized human being. That is not necessary in a movie like this, but when there is as much dialogue as Life has, it becomes important. But the editing and cinematography seem wholly uninterested in any of that. Shots are frequently cut mid-sentence, effectively garbling the speech, and the look is so washed out, which is fine for generating unease, but annoying when attempting to make sense of facial expressions. Horror often works best by withholding its villain, but the formula is a little different when the monster is by far the most fascinating character.

Life is Recommended If You LikeAlien (though it’s not as well-crafted), The Thing (though it’s not quite as ominous), Tremors (but without the cheekiness)

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Doomed Lab Rats

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