Daniel Espinosa’s Life is Alien set in the International space Station and threatening Earth –as opposed to hunting the crew of a cargo ship in another galaxy.
That’s more than enough to make it feel original.
The film opens with the crew of the ISS learning that the Mars Pilgrim 7 Mission is returning to Earth and they’re to catch the thing and check the samples it’s bringing back before sending them on to Earth.
The crew includes: British lead scientist Dr. Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare, Thirteen, Rogue One), who loves being in space because he doesn’t need his wheelchair (his CGI-withered legs are very convincing); Russian Commander Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya); CDC representative Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson); medical doctor David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler), who’s set a record for most time in space; senior crew member Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada, Helix, The Last Ship), and engineer/Mr. Fixit, Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool, Woman In Gold).
Once they’ve snagged the Pilgrim, they begin to collect and analyze those samples – one of which appears to be a dead/dormant single-cell lifeform). Dr. Derry figures out how to wake it up and it seems like a sweet little thing – even after it’s rapidly grown to be the size of a dandelion (in fact, it does look like a bit floral).
On Earth, a contest has given a little girl the opportunity to name the creature; she names it Calvin (after her school, which is named for President Calvin Coolidge).
Not long afterward, though, things take a turn. Calvin grows enough to attach itself to Dr. Derry’s hand – eventually puncturing the incubator glove. The result is horrific.
So, the crew goes into preservation mode – after Rory manages to dislodge Calvin from Dr., Derry and get him to safety.
The problem is that Calvin is growing more intelligent at the same rate it’s growing which is incredibly fast – pulling us into a 10 Little Indians scenario. Despite following all their protocols, Calvin finds ways to ingest more sustenance (like the ‘50s film, The Blob, the more it eats the faster it grows).
For two-thirds of the movie, director Espinosa builds the tension through a combination of score, editing and performance. We get glimpses of Calvin as it tries to get at the remaining crew and we get to see the crew following Calvin through the ship’s control center.
About the middle of the film – the by the book bits – it begins to lose momentum. As harrowing as the situation is – and how grotesque Calvin’s kills are – the film slows considerably.
In the end, Calvin seems so inexorable that the crew decides it must be destroyed or sent into deep space or Earth will be doomed. A distress signal is sent, but there’s no way to tell if it’s been received.
By the final half hour, the remaining crew are beginning to lose control of their emotions to the point where they make increasing dumb decisions. Oddly enough, this is also where Life comes back to life – setting up what is clearly an opportunity for a sequel (which is entirely too predictable).
There’s two-thirds of a great movie here – which is significantly more than the trailers suggested. Even if the film’s final moments become predictable with half an hour to go, Life is a bravura B-movie on A-budgets steroids and very much worth seeing.
- Final Grade: B