Space has always seemed to me an ideal location for a horror film. Not only are you confined to a restricted area, with only the tools on board at your disposal, but the alien entity that is slowly picking off the humans one by one can come in any shape or size the director wishes. ‘Life’ is the discovery of life on Mars, when a crew of astronauts recover a damaged space ship that contains a specimen from said planet. Once the specimen is aboard the scientist member of the crew begins his examination of the Alien nicknamed Calvin. Though I’m not entirely sure what part of its genetic makeup determined its gender, what is clear is the director Daniel Espinosa’s intention of exploring the possibility of hostile Aliens on planets we intend on one day exploring. Where entities that consume to survive are currently dormant, waiting for human interaction, a provocative horror idea.
Although Life quite blatantly uses material from a whole list of popular culture films and video games with the most obvious being ‘Alien’ and ‘Dead Space’, this actually does little to detract from the enjoyment of the film. Calvin begins as a small creature, one that seems friendly and welcoming, but when things take a very sudden and violent turn for the worst it begins growing at a rapid rate consuming everything in its path. Calvin then frees itself by making its way into the air system, beginning a horrific version of hide and seek.
This is largely the extent of the film, how to kill Calvin before it kills you. Not an easy task to undertake given Calvin’s flexibility, strength, durability and developing intelligence, something the crew continually comment on. For a horror film the pacing is excellent, and though there are some moments of human error, the only slight stumble is around the half way mark in the film where the crew has a moment of contemplation, one which Calvin seems happy to provide for them by disappearing to some other part of the ship until he is needed once more.
There is hardly any back story to speak of for these characters with the exception of Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada), whose story is simply there to provide a motivational boost in a later scene. Ryan Reynolds’s character Rory Adams is perhaps the most memorable with Reynolds’s usual supply of ready to hand quips and his character is essential in producing the more light-hearted energy necessary before the inevitable turmoil beings. The lack of any prominent backstory for the characters is a wise choice, allowing the film to focus on survival, without being drowned in any unnecessary family stories or woes, but just enough to form an opinion on each character.
OVERALL *** – ‘Life’ is a simple yet effective horror film. One which makes great use of Calvin as a floating being that will make your skin crawl, though the ending is a tad on the nose.
RECOMMENDATION – If you’re a fan of horror this film is for you.