Jun 182017
1.5 reels

Six astronauts on the international space station—a medic (Jake Gyllenhaal), a Ryan Reynolds-like pilot (Ryan Reynolds), a handicapped biologist (Ariyon Bakare), a CDC safety officer (Rebecca Ferguson), a computer guy (Hiroyuki Sanada), and the captain (Olga Dihovichnaya)—recover a microscopic life form from a Mars probe and start to experiment with it. Naturally, it grows until it’s big enough to break out of the lab. Then it is: killer alien faux-squid verses panicked humans in a confined space with a slowly dwindling supply of humans.

I can’t condemn Life merely because it is a rip-off of Alien. There are dozens of films that are rip-offs of Alien. It has become a sub-genre. But Life also doesn’t get any points for originality. There’s not an unexpected moment. What’s surprising is that this is a 60 million dollar film. I expect this sort of thing to be made for a million or less and go straight to VOD or Netflix. That extra money buys a few name stars and some reasonable special effects, but I suspect it would have lost little if the space station had appeared tiny and the actors were all searching for their big break. But if your concern in your space horror film is that they really look weightless and that the station have a whole lot of compartments, then perhaps they’ve spent their money well.

Life isn’t an incompetently made film. It is made up of parts that are skillfully constructed. Everything looks good. All the actors know their craft. The monster is nicely designed and moves well. Except for Gyllenhaal repeatedly yelling to break quarantine, the dialog isn’t filled with awkward or ridiculous lines. It’s all… fine.

What is lacking is anything rising above “fine” and anything to set this film apart from the earlier clones besides budget. There’s no real attempt to give the characters personality. Ferguson and Dihovichnaya could have swapped lines and I wouldn’t have noticed. Sanada’s character’s wife just had a baby—that is his personality. The biologist can’t use his legs and likes experimenting; that’s it. Reynolds doesn’t even bother, just doing his normal Reynolds routine, which would be OK if he were the focus of the movie. Gyllenhaal at least shakes a lot and looks sick; at least I hope that was acting.

So, with no characters to cling to and no witty dialog (not being stupid doesn’t make it engaging), it is impossible to care. I knew exactly what was going to happen so it was neither tense nor scary. People die. Yup. Since everything is set from the beginning and none of it matters, it all goes on way too long. Every scene is twice as long as it needs to be.

My rating seems a bit harsh since I’m implying it isn’t worth a glance on free TV—something I usually reserve for severely flawed films, but this one gets it not because it is poorly made, but because there’s simply no reason to watch it. Find a couple of those cheaply made ‘80s clones with practical effects and a good deal of silliness. They may be flawed, but they have more charm.

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