When the trailer first surfaced for the 2017 sci-fi creeper, Life, there was a persistent theory going the rounds that it was actually a secret Venom movie – something that was made extra ironic when its director, Daniel Espinosa went on to make Mobius, a movie apparently set in in the same universe as Sony’s 2018 movie about Spider-Man’s favorite symbiote. As weird as that sounds, it’s actually a fitting story that describes Life surprisingly well as a movie that seems to be missing it’s own identity, because beyond the random Venom connections, what he have here is yet another blatant Alien clone that takes a bunch of fleshy humans, dutifully seals them in a tin can out in space and introduces an alien lifeforms to the mix to makes things extra spicy.
However, while familiarity is said to breed contempt, is this the case here, or does this latest serving of malevolent life forms breathe new life into things?


It’s the near future and the multinational crew of the International Space Station gird their loins at the retrevial of a probe sent to Mars that may contain soil samples that yield proof of extraterrestrial life. As the resident exobiologist travels through the cosmic dirt, he discovers a dormant cell that, after a bit of prodding, becomes an aware and very feisty multi celled organism that school kids back on Earth choose to name Calvin.
So far, so good – however, the jubilation felt by the six crew members soon shifts to something way more apprehensive when Calvin starts flexing his creepy, squishy muscles when it feels like it’s being threatened. Despite roughly being the size and shape of a particularly exotic starfish, Calvin manages to crush one crew member’s hand like a beer can and then displays a terrifying talent for problem solving as it Macgyvers it’s way out of its container by utilizing tools. From here, things rapidly veer dangerously out of control as, in an attempt to save the unconscious exobiologist, another crew member is killed by their octopus-like when it schlorps down their throat (that’s the technical term, I believe) and gobbled up their insides, emerging even bigger that it was before.
From this point, the race is on as the surviving crew has to figure out how to slow Calvin down or stop him altogether as the psychotic cephalopod seeks to squirm it’s way out of the sealed science bay and gain access to the rest of the station like some life-or-death version of a sci-fi themed escape room. If the continuously mutating Calvin makes it to Earth and thrives on all the nutritional shit our planet has to offer, mankind may very well be screwed, so it comes down to this: who wants to live more, the single-minded Calvin, or the four astronauts that stand in it’s way?


I find it constantly amusing that if you wanted to watch an Alien rip off back in the 80’s you usually had to watch some awesomely trashy, cheapo endeavor, most likely produced by Roger Corman. Fast forward to the present day and movies that liberally steal from Ridley Scott’s classic now come with hefty budgets and big stars instead of creaky sets and big breasts, but the result isn’t that much different.
Life, while providing as much originality as a 12 hour stint watching repeats on UK Gold, certainly looks the business with the entire movie lavished with a realistically realised space station that goes for a scientific accuracy that rivals Gravity. Speaking of that wondrous field that keeps us all from spinning off into the void, the entire movie has its cast wrasslin’ with its villainous, martian glob in zero G for the entirety of the running time, giving out extra panicky vibes as every scene is staged with the characters floating about the place like dandelion seeds caught in an up draft.
Elsewhere, the movie manages to briefly subvert expectations by flooding its first half hour with an overwhelming sense of hope even though we all know that Calvin will launch into full scale Darwinism at literally any second. It serves to make the horror all the more disheartening when it strikes as the starry cast get slowly whittled down in no particular order.


This brings us to the famous faces stuck in the space station with out sadistic squid and they all prove to be reliably cast to type in all the stock roles. Ryan Reynolds is the brash, charismatic American of the group, Jake Gyllenhaal is the nervy doctor who has grown despondent with mankind, Rebecca Ferguson is the stern quarantine enforcer and the rest of the cast is rounded out by Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya and the ever awesome Hiroyuki Sanada and all manage to do everything required of them before many suffer legitimately nasty demises at the tentacles of their unwanted guest.
However, while Espinosa manages to get quite a nihilistic tone out of proceedings thanks to those legitimately creepy deaths (drowning in coolant while within a spacesuit battles with Calvin crawling down the gullet of another hapless victim to be the most unnerving) and a nicely downbeat ending, you are never more than three minutes away from a reminder of how derivative it really is.
Life ends up being to Alien what Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is to Paul W.S. Anderson’s Event Horizon – a flashier redux of a more, overtly horror-centric fan favourite and what’s more than that, you could make a drinking game out of spotting the similarities. The trope of the early “shock” death of a big name is trotted out as is the female lead initially being coldly stern when it comes to quarantine procedures and Calvin’s limb snapping, throat violating modus operandi come straight out of Prometheus.
However, while the spectre of deja vu hangs around the production like a particularly robust fart, it’s slick enough to just about carry itself through under it’s own steam even if its final third starts to buckle under the strain. In fact, taking it’s over familiar, yet down beat tone into consideration, it would make something of a perfect double bill with William Eubank’s similarly somber Underwater.


If you’ve got to the point where yet another Alien rip off is just too much to bear, I’d fully understand if you were to know a star off my rating, however, despite its copycat leanings, the movie is slickly produced enough to envoke all the thrills, spills and kills fans of this type of thing like to see. To misquote the lyrics from the 1987 Star Trek spoof “Star Trekkin'”: “It’s Life Jim, but very much as we know it.”


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