Review: 'Life'

A thriller on the ISS demonstrates why it's folly to attempt to recreate 'Alien'
Jake Gyllenhaal plays an astronaut trapped aboard the International Space Station with a very hungry alien.

In space, no one can hear you scream: "For God's sake, don't coddle that damned face-hugging alien!" Daniel Espinosa's Life throws the science-fanciers a few (human) bones. Take xenobiologist Ariyon Bakare's Hugh Derry, crooning over a little bugger brought to the International Space Station by the Pilgrim 7 Martian probe. Talking to it, petting it in its glove box, and then goosing it with an electrical prod when the critter is trying to take a siesta, Derry is the most foolhardy scientist since the doomed physicist Louis Slotin. One gets a sense that Espinosa (Child 44) doesn't have a real point of view about his lurking, pouncing Martian critter: a tapeworm-sized beast that ends up quite big after helping himself to the crew.

As for Calvin, as the ornery tentacled beast is called...Calvin honors that thing you always say at parties when you've run out of things to say about octopuses: "If there were alien life, it might well look like this crafty cephalopod, so ingenious, so gifted at escape attempts. Really, it's a pity that we eat him with soy sauce and wasabi." Unfortunately, Calvin isn't as good at calligraphy as those alien squid in Arrival.

Life doubles down on the zero-gravity swimming scenes that were part of the appeal of Gravity; the cast (Olga Dihovichnaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada) claw their way through the corridors as the thing chases them. But there are many "Now, we wait!" scenes in between science-fiction declaratives: "We're looking at the first incontrovertible proof of extraterrestrial life!" Before humanity makes its last desperate stand with duct tape and flashlights, there are many swears: "This is some Re-Animator shit!" says Reynolds, breaking the law against quoting a better movie than the one you're in.

Life is a movie you wish you could see for the second time first, so that everything that fails to make sense first time around, every amazingly stupid action the cast carries out, would be clarified. Glum, hushed, occasionally grisly—it runs out of a better rationale than the idea that what we describe as a monster's wrath is just the life force expressing itself. It's unclear this movie has a reason to exist, beyond the reason of showing what a sucker's game it is to try to top Alien.

R; 110 Mins

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