Review: 'Life' Is The Alien Horror We Hoped ‘Prometheus’ Would Be

When it comes to outer space movies, there are two categories.  The first category is of space as the “final frontier” and a place full of wonder, adventure, and majesty.  The second category is where space is a cruel unforgiving place full of torment and hell. Daniel Espinosa's Life is the second category in a terrifying, well-made suspenseful way.

Taking place aboard the International Space Station, the crew of the Mars Pilgrim 7 Mission (Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, and Olga Dihovichnayahave) just collected a probe that has been to Mars and they are beginning the process of studying soil from the Red Planet.

The opening 5 minutes is an impressive single-take shot showing the astronauts in action as they retrieve the probe in a zero-gravity environment that takes the wonder and FX wizardry from Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity and takes it up a notch.  From there we get to spend some time meeting our soon-to-be-doomed crew.  Gyllenhaal’s Doctor Jordon has spent the most time in outer space of the crew, as he has pretty much given up on humanity, to the point where he’s suffering from entropy and cosmic radiation.  Ferguson’s Doctor North is the CDC doctor who placed all the necessary quarantine measures and “firewalls” in place to ensure that nothing goes wrong (which of course it does!).  Ryan Reynolds plays Rory Adams in the most Ryan Reynolds type of way (when is he not being Van Wilder?).  Hiroyuki Sanada as astronaut Sho Kendo is a new father.  Ariyon Bakare is Hugh Derry, the scientist who gets the most “hands on” time with the newly discovered specimen.  Derry also enjoys life in the space station as he is wheelchair bound on Earth, but in zero gravity he has the ability to fly just like everyone else.  Rounding out the crew is Olga Dihovichnaya as Ekaterina Golovkina, the level-headed Russian cosmonaut.  The movie takes its time for us to get to know each of them before all hell breaks loose.

And boy does it.  After examining the soil, they discover “Calvin,” a single celled organism that seems sweet and innocent at first.  However, after Doctor Derry discovers what makes him tick, Calvin begins to respond.  Fist in simple gestures, but then in much more dangerous ways.  Of course, every cell in Calvin has muscular and neural attributes, meaning its strong and smart.  It doesn’t take long before all hell breaks loose and not only is Calvin able to leave the confines of his quarantine, but is now loose throughout the ship.

From there on, the rest of the film is a non-stop monster movie.  Combining the best parts of Gravity and Alien, we see the crew and they try to repair the ship, avoid becoming food for Calvin, and try to make sure the mangled space station doesn’t find its way into Earth’s atmosphere, because if Calvin lands on Earth, “Game Over Man!”  The film will have inevitable comparisons to Ridley Scott’s classic 1979 film and it runs through many of the same tropes of the OG space-horror film.  It has scientists who discover an alien life form, they break protocol and don’t follow quarantine rules, the monster gets loose and starts killing the crew one by one.  With that said, this film shouldn’t be treated as a reboot, reimagining, or copycat of the famous xenomorph films as Life finds its own ways to be original and downright scary throughout the film.

One thing that was impressive in the film is the CGI.  In this film, there is no gravity, so the entire movie our stars are racing through corridors of the International Space Station in zero-gravity flying and doing backflips to avoid the creature, or fly/glide towards in to stop it.  In addition, Calvin itself goes through a series of changes.  He starts out as a cute little amoeba looking thing, to this horrible creature as he delivers his last kill towards the end of the movie and we get a great shot of its face after it has developed over the entire 103-minute film.  You also have to stop while watching the movie and realize, you are terrified of this little space octopus the size of a small pet.  Jon Ekstrand's score hits at the right moments helping ante up the suspense factor as well.  The film also rightfully earns its R Rating as we see some horrifying deaths of an unlucky crew.

The film delivers its share of cheap jump scares and you never know what corner the monster is hiding in as our heroes peek into any corner and crevice to find Calvin.  The final 20 minutes of the film are just thrilling and you the audience play a guessing game as to who is going to survive, until we reach the surprisingly pleasant ending of the film.  While this film suffers a tiny bit when it comes to some of the melodrama associated with the crew as they deal with the potential of never returning to their beloved planet, it makes up for it with some great horror moments and impressive special effects.  Hopefully, the film will leave enough of a mark for a sequel as Calvin is one hell of a new monster to keep us up at nights.

Rating: 4 out of 5