“You’re playing with it like it’s your buddy.”
I almost feel sorry for Life. As I sit down to write this review, I have just perched my arse on the sofa and started my binge on the holiest of space-based horror franchises. I’m sat, feet up, tapping away at this review as the one and only Alien plays out on my television.
And I say “the one and only” on purpose. Because Life, this most derivative of sci-fi scarers, takes so much from Ridley Scott’s seminal movie that its tagline could quite possibly be “In space, everyone can see you steal”.
After retrieving a capsule filled with samples from Mars, a six man team of scientists aboard the International Space Station become the first to prove the existence of life on the Red Planet. Things aren’t as simple as they first seem when, what starts off as a single-cell organism, quickly evolves into a tiny monster intent on not being so tiny anymore.
To succeed in that goal, it’s going to need to eat everyone!
Horror ensues as the jellyfish looking beastie starts to pick off scientists one-by-one, making itself bigger and badder than the people that brought it to life. Now the crew are in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with higher stakes than any of them imagined when they started this trip.
This film is Alien. Ok, it goes to the 1979 Classic by way of a lot of other films. Event Horizon, Pandorum, The Thing, Virus, Species; it even steals more than a little from space-based survival horror game Dead Space. Life is so unapologetically derivative of all of these movies that if it didn’t come to you after months of advertising that plastered Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson all over big screens everywhere, it would have definitely premiered on the SyFy channel, probably after the next Sharknado instalment.
As well as the trio mentioned above, we also have Olga Dihovichnaya and Hiroyuki Sanada. The five roles are pretty interchangeable; not a single one is fleshed out enough to make you want to care about them. Pilot, doctor, toilet repair astronaut, it matters not; the crew could be any of a million people – one of them just happens to be super-handsome and one was in a Mission: Impossible film. The only exception, in my opinion, is Ariyon Bakare.
As the chief scientist, he has the most interesting of the interactions with the alien – whose name is Calvin, I shit you not – and gets to be the one that shares the scene with it when its true intentions are revealed. This is easily the best and most tense scene in the entire film. Sadly, if you were at a screening of Get Out in the last week or so, you’ve seen that moment in its entirety already, because someone thought it best to have a mini preview instead of a trailer in cinemas this week.
Director Daniel Espinosa (the man behind the fun, silly Safe House and the boring, lacklustre Child 44) has delivered a sci-fi that fulfils none of its promises. It looks like it’s trying (and failing) so very hard to be the new Alien – although hilarious rumours that it’ll be the origin story for Sony’s recently confirmed Venom movie have kept me giggling since I walked out of the screen his afternoon.
I can’t blame Espinosa for trying. That’s his job. But if you’re going to borrow from every sci-fi horror you can name, then the very least you can do is pick one or two and keep your film consistent. As it is, between him and Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (which accounts for Mr Reynolds’ recycling a joke from last year’s masterpiece) they’ve half-inched the blueprints from a dozen movies, ran them all through a shredder and tried desperately to make something worthwhile from the bin bag of rubbish left over.
It’s not all bad though – ok, it is mostly bad – but it does have a redeeming feature or two. Life has some impressive set-pieces to show off and a fair amount of imagination has gone into the monster and how it behaves. Its final form looks a little like a floating, bodiless version of the aliens from Independence Day and behaves like it took acting lessons from The Abyss‘ extra-terrestrials; but Calvin is fun to watch and a delight to look at.
Sadly, these minor flashes of fun don’t distract enough from a film that will forever be overshadowed by the much better genre pieces it is trying to imitate. As I watch the final scenes of Alien on the TV, I can see why someone would want to make this again. Maybe next time they won’t schedule its release a month and a half before an ACTUAL Alien movie is due out where, like this time, your mediocre copycat is eclipsed even by the Covenant trailer that was shown before it.