The international space station has just received a sample of a life form from Mars and decide to try to wake it up under strict containment protocols. Of course something goes wrong and an angry life form must be contained and prevented from making it to Earth.
I don’t get to see movies at the cinema very often so I was really happy that this was out during my last trip to a city. I actually saw a few movies over a couple of days including Ghost in the Shell so I’ll have to get around to writing up reviews of the others that I watched while I had the opportunity. That said, of the movies I watched, Life was probably the one that had the greatest impact on me in terms of emotional response while viewing. It doesn’t really do anything that similar movies haven’t done before, but just because it isn’t treading new ground doesn’t mean it isn’t affective at what it attempts.
The posters would have you believe that this is space horror, close quarters claustrophobic inducing tension. In fairness, there is a little bit of that but the problem is this movie goes through three distinct phases and they don’t quite manage to make an overall cohesive viewing experience. By far the weakest phase is the last one, which is unfortunate given that is what you are left with when the movie ends.
Phase 1 is the discovery phase. We meet the members of the team, suitably international in their representation for an American film and when there is a fairly small cast. Each member has different skills and backgrounds which we learn about through interactions, reports, and communications. The issue with phase 1, is that it is pretty dull. Sure, if you want to know about life living on a space station this is a nice tour (in fact they give a tour on camera to people on Earth) but unless you have watched the trailers and you know how it is going to all go wrong, there’s nothing really interesting going on.
Fortunately, I had watched the trailer, so literally every time anyone was near the later named Calvin I was tense just wondering if this was when things would get started. This movie really highlights the importance of the audiences’ expectations and how that will affect their viewing. There is nothing sinister about any of the early scenes with the life form and yet you begin looking for it and feeling tension that really isn’t there because of your expectations of where things are going to go. In this case, the trailer showing future scenes actually adds to the viewing experience.
Then we enter Phase 2. Originally there’s an accident that makes the life form seem dormant and when the guy in charge attempts to prompt it back into life, it takes that as an attack (which is fair enough but the reaction is a little extreme). Phase 2 is arguably the best phase of the movie. It is that space horror you were expecting where you are constantly on the edge of your seat and every sound effect and pause makes your heart pound. It works because Calvin is small but deadly. Highly mobile, hard to see, smart, and he can force his way inside a human and tear them apart from the inside (gross and effective given once he got in there wasn’t anything that could be done).
During this phase they are struggling to track him, reacting without thinking through consequences (which leads to some interesting issues later), and highly emotional. One of the best scenes was when the Captain was outside the space station and Calvin had latched on to the outside of her suit. I really wished she hadn’t just stayed outside but had actively pushed off at that point. Then again, there was always a chance she’d re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and they were never entirely sure if that would kill Calvin or not.
Which actually brings me to an issue I have with a lot of ‘alien’ life forms in science fiction. I get that space and other environments are a little more hostile than Earth, but what is with all these super creatures that can handle hot, cold, poison, lack of atmosphere, etc, etc. I could understand a creature being stronger against one or two of these things, but being practically invulnerable is kind of crazy. Admittedly, I’ve not met any aliens that I’m aware of so maybe these incredible creatures do exist but really Calvin was just a little too unkillable for my liking. It made the ending more or less inevitable from the beginning.
Phase 3 of the film really begins when we are down to the final two crew members. At this point, the space station is literally falling apart and they make the decision to use the escape pods. One will return to earth, the other will lure Calvin into the pod and then manually override the controls to point themselves into space. Nothing could go wrong with this plan.
For me, phase 3 was the most pointless. During phase 1 I had anticipation of what was coming to keep my emotions running high. Phase 2 genuinely had me hooked with the tension and fear for the crew. By phase 3, Calvin is now large and standard monster size so a lot of the tension had evaporated as we went into more standard monster fare. More importantly, given everything else that had happened, the pitfalls with the plan were pretty obvious so all their fancy cinematography to try to confuse you as to which pod was which was ultimately just making me dizzy rather than tense.
Despite the ending which was okay but not amazing, I really had a lot of fun with Life. While there were a couple of brutal deaths, it didn’t go overboard on the gross out factor and kept the horror to the mostly psychological rather than visual. For me this is more affective because generally speaking gross out horror with buckets of blood just makes me laugh (yes, I am strange). The actors all sell their characters. None of them are startling performances, but they are all solid enough and you can believe them for the duration.
Mostly, if you tend to like science fiction or creepy horror, this movie will work really well for at least two-thirds and even the ending isn’t too much of a let down.
If you’ve seen Life, let me know what you thought.
Are you a fan of 100WordAnime.blog?
If you like this site and you like what I do, consider becoming a patron.