Clichés Flatline Sci-Fi Homage ‘Life’

by Tim English on March 24, 2017

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Down]

Quick disclaimer. Despite some silly but clever rumors (and the filmmakers winking non-denial) LIFE is not a secret Venom origins movie. The only reason I bring it up is because as dumb as it sounds, this movie would have been a lot cooler if it had been.

But, as it is, LIFE is a pretty standard sci-fi horror flick that isn’t nearly as good as the movies that inspired it.

When the crew of the International Space Station intercepts a sample from Mars, they are elated to discover the first proof of life beyond Earth. They begin to examine the symbiotic organism only to learn it is extremely smart and quite aggressive when provoked. Because they are smart scientists they elect to keep Calvin, as it is nicknamed, on the station during the examination.

Because they are morons in a sci-fi movie they literally spend the rest of the flick completely contradicting their own rules. In between a lot of wasted time waxing poetic about its love of late 70’s thought-provoking sci-fi, LIFE is nothing more than a monster movie masquerading as a better flick. It looks pretty, and it times it might even convince you that something more important is being expressed, but it’s a promise that leads to disappointment.

When it’s all said and done, this really is nothing more than a rehash of what we’ve seen repeated countless times since Ridley Scott’s epic classic Alien, with just enough broad strokes of Stanley Kubrick’s twisted masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey to let you know the filmmakers have done their homework. The problem is LIFE is not nearly as captivating, haunting, nor thought-provoking of either of those superior films.

As an alien monster, Calvin is actually fairly interesting. There are some attempts to explore its intelligence and curiosity and perhaps the story would have been better served had it simply been a psychological exploration at the differences between our species. But every time this movie threatens to explore its superficial existential questions, it veers into traditional horror movie tropes.

And the humans don’t help, mostly because none of them are interesting enough to really care about what happens to them. Ryan Reynolds is just about the only one of the human prey who seems to be having fun with what he’s doing. The rest of the cast, including Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson take turns spewing scientific-sounding dialogue but none of them add any emotional depth to story that’s already desperately trying to figure out what the hell its supposed to be.

Director Daniel Espinosa, working from a script from Zombieland scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, creates some fun moments, building tension as the creature evolves and begins tracking the humans, but there is far too little fun to be had here. And it takes too long to get to these moments, which feel pointless because the film constantly contradicts and distracts itself to further its lack-of-a-plot or setting up the next jump scare.

When it sticks to what it’s supposed to be doing, it is genuinely nerve-wracking. The problem is it constantly wants to pretend its something its not and every time the film spins off into an homage of the better films it was inspired by, you’ll feel like you should probably be watching Alien or 2001 instead. You’re welcome.

Writer. Ad Man. Jedi. Sometimes people ask for my opinion on movies. Sometimes they agree. Member of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Creator and voice of the Reel Hooligans podcast. Find us on iTunes. Board member for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City and founder of the Terror on the Plains Horror Festival.

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