Life (2017) — Maybe don’t give the space monster a cute name?

“Firewall One was the box. And Firewall Two was the lab. And Firewall Three is the station.”

Justin’s rating: In the sequel, Hobbes is coming for us all

Justin’s review: Honestly, I would’ve let Life zip right by me if it wasn’t for the fact that I kept hearing recommendations to see it. And all of the recommendations were couched in a caveat: “Yeah, it’s basically a redone Alien, but even so, it’s not that bad.”

Huzzah for lowering our standards of excellence in cinema! It’s not that bad!

In the not-too-distant future, the Satellite of Love — AKA the International Space Station — is full of Ryan Reynoldses looking for opportunities to be heroes and snark until the morning comes. But instead of an endless supply of bad movies sent by mad scientists, these guys get a bad bit of extraterrestrial life sent by a Mars pod.

The tiny organism, nicknamed “Calvin” by some schoolkids on Earth, proves to have a mind of its own — a mind of a serial killer. It’s out to grow, devour, crush, kill, destroy, and possibly run a themed bed-and-breakfast in Vermont.

It doesn’t take long before the crew changes their opinion from “reverent adoration” to “fleeing in terror” from Calvin, possibly after it hollows out one of the ISS crewmates (I won’t spoil which one, but it’s someone who normally has a lead billing). Calvin proves to be more resourceful and tenacious than is really that believable for a newborn E.T., but such are the way of these films.

Soon enough, the decimated crew realize that Earth is deliberately cutting them off from help… and Calvin wants nothing more than to get down to a big blue planet where it can grow and devour even more. Thus ensues a tense race between the planet’s brightest astronauts and a lump of frisky Silly Putty.

You’ll notice I haven’t said much about the astronauts themselves, and that’s because the movie doesn’t care to give them much in the way of personalities before Calvin starts his rampage. I mean, there’s a Jake Gyllenhaal in this, but apart from floating from the right side of the screen to the left, then the left to the right, then the up to the down, he and the rest aren’t that inclined to allow any characterization to slip out. I guess we’re supposed to feel bad for them, but who are they anyway?

Perhaps the most terrifying part of the movie was when the crew gets cut off from communication with Earth — and then Earth sends a capsule to shove the space station into deep space as a way to contain the critter. It gives a brief sense of how panicked everyone is down below that they resort to such a drastic measure (but then, why not simply send a missile to nuke it?).

So what sets Life apart from its spiritual ancestor and its many, many copycats? For starters, the setting of the ISS (albeit a movie version that’s FAR more spacious than the real one) where everyone floats instead of walks gives it a nice contemporary scifi feel. And there’s something genuinely creepy about the design of Calvin, which is as far removed from your typical latex suited critter as could be. It looks like something that could come from one of the more boring pages of our biology textbooks, at least at first.

Probably my biggest problem with this fairly bloody movie is that it’s so laughable that such a small and thin critter (at least at first) could be this strong and whip-smart, but this isn’t a movie meant to intelligently deal with extraterrestrial life. I had to keep in mind that Life is honestly nothing more than a creature feature that sheds its pseudo-scientific skin early on for a lengthy series of chases, deaths, and Hail Mary gambits. At least that everything happens in zero G, it seems more fresh than this well-trod territory really is.

So you have to let go of any analysis why an invincible newborn space octopus would know how to navigate its high tech environment, desire to find a way to Earth, or hold such a persistent grudge against people. You just embrace the creature that wants to embrace you — and go with it unquestioningly.

I’ll concur that Life is not that bad — but the flip side of such a statement is that it isn’t that good, either. It’s a mindless rental with some above-average sets and effects and a creature that’s a video game boss with a cheat code.

Didja notice?

  • Some really pretty space shots
  • This ISS is a whole lot more spacious than the real one
  • Re-Animator reference!
  • And the little kid just gave the space monster its name
  • The wheelchair guy who feels “like a bird” in space
  • FaceTime birth
  • That’s one dead mouse
  • “Kill it.”
  • The floating body is so creepy
  • Ugh, drowning in space
  • So Calvin can’t be burned, isn’t bothered by the vacuum of space, grows in mere minutes when ingesting anything, can use tools, holds a grudge, doesn’t feel much in the way of pain, is abnormally strong, seemingly understands spaceships… this may not be very realistic for a culture grown science fair project.
  • Yeah, just put yourself in a coffin while the space monster looks for a way in
  • The alien POV shots are so bad
  • It’s suffocating? It just lived outside in space for like 10 minutes!

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