Cast Jake Gyllenhaal in a movie and I’ll go and see it. Cast Ryan Reynolds in a movie and I’ll go and see it. Make a movie set in space and I’ll go and see it. Make a movie about finding life beyond Earth and I’ll go and see it. Make a movie set in space about finding life beyond Earth starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds and I’ll be counting down the days until the goddamned thing comes out! Which I did – and it was definitely worth the wait.
LIFE is a sci-fi horror that explores the dark side of our quest to find life beyond Earth. The movie is set on board the International Space Station (ISS), where a team of doctors, scientists, military personnel and Deadpo–err, Ryan Reynolds–intercept a probe from Mars that may contain the first irrefutable proof of life beyond our planet. Spoiler: it does.
While it’s easy to believe everyone would be ecstatic at the discovery of life elsewhere in the universe, there is a growing contingent (Alice Deejay among them) who feel we are better off alone. The list of names against the idea of contacting extraterrestrial life include the likes of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and inventor, entrepreneur and SpaceX founder Elon Musk.
So, if government agencies such as NASA, who sent a probe into deep space containing coordinates to our home planet and depictions of the human body for any aliens who intercept it (no, I’m not making this up) aren’t afraid, and organisations such as The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, exist, why should we be afraid of what may exist ‘out there’? Because it might want to kill us.
Human history is plagued with genocide, as more technologically advanced civilisations met native inhabitants in far-off lands and decided it was easier to wipe them out than to have them integrate. While LIFE doesn’t necessarily explore the alien invasion trope, it definitely plays on our fear that we would be nothing more than an obstacle to any alien life that encountered us.
Shortly after intercepting a wayward probe from Mars, the crew on board the ISS confirm that they have found the first proof of life beyond Earth. After successfully reanimating the dormant life-form, they are astonished at its rapid growth, apparent intelligence, and the fact that it is, and I quote: “all muscle and all brain”.
This turns out to be a bad combination. The alien, affectionately named ‘Calvin’, soon makes it intentions known. What begins as the first handshake between humans and ET instead turns into an interplanetary arm wrestle, ending in a gruesome disfigurement and resounding loss for team Earth. Once the two sides become hostile, Calvin begins displaying overwhelming resilience, incredible intelligence, and an insatiable bloodlust as the crew try hopelessly to kill it, or at least get it off the station.
While a combination of the high stakes and Calvin’s relentless brutality make for palpable tension aboard the Space Station, the film is nerve-wracking due equally in part to the crew’s incompetence. The film suffers in much the same way that Europa Report does as a result, with characters making decisions that simply don’t make sense for people who have trained their whole lives for these missions (excluding the murderous alien). Ryan Reynold’s plays his usual ‘the rules don’t apply to me’ character, which is the polar opposite of the type of person you would actually find on such a mission, and the situation is exacerbated by poor choices all around. Let me just say: flamethrower on a space station?!
While LIFE suffers many of the common pitfalls of movies set in space, it is nonetheless a genuinely gripping film with a unique and terrifying take on alien life. With the Alien franchise getting a reboot this year in the form of Alien: Covenant, and original sci-fi films seemingly on the rise, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and director Daniel Espinosa have given themselves the best chance possible at establishing LIFE as their own multi-movie alien horror series with this impressive first showing.
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