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.
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9 thoughts on “Life Movie Review”
I love movies and if it were up to me I would watch them all. However I missed out on this one so it was interesting to get your thoughts on it.
Really cool review. I have missed this one in the theatres, and after reading this, I am really disappointed by that fact. You are right about a movie not having to be original in order to be effective. As long as it is done well, I don’t mind seeing something that isn’t going to win a prize for most original script. Back to this, Inreally look forward to seeing this now. It will probably be a while before it will be released on dvd, but once it does I am going to check it out for sure. Thanks for sharing this, and looking forward to the other movie reviews: especially Ghost in the Shell 😊😊
I really should get around to writing them up. Because I took on so many anime initially this season I haven’t had a lot of room for thinking about other posts. Now that I’ve dropped a few shows I’ve got a bit more flexibility and should be able to schedule a few other reviews here and there.
Cool, looking forward to those. I’ve got a few reviews coming up myself. Most notably Prometheus, and the new Alien Covenant movie that I wil; be seeing on wednesday. I also plan to do a review for the first Resident Evil movie, and ofcourse a few Animeseries. If only there were more hours to a day 😂😂
Now Alien Covenant I’m going to miss because I’m not going near civilisation for another couple of weeks so it won’t be out at cinemas when I’m in a town that has one. Looking forward to your thoughts on that.
I was almost going to miss it myself, but I got a lucky break. A theatre near my home plays it on the only decent timeslot that I am able to attend, and wednesday is also the last day that I would be able to see it. I will probably have my review up on thursday 😊
I was actually really looking forward to watching this movie when I first watched the trailer (it kind of reminded of Prometheus and I really liked it) but then read a really bad review so I ended up not going, though I still want to watch it. Your review just made me excited about this movie again (despite its flaws)
It was definitely decent to watch. It isn’t going to cause any of the great sci-fi horror films to tremble but for what it isn’t bad. Part of me wishes the tone had been a bit more consistent throughout and that final act was really the least impressive part of the film but still worked well enough. If you watch it, I hope you enjoy it.