Like most sci-fi movies as of late (except for Oscar-nominated, Arrival), Life opened to a flurry of mixed reviews. Rotten Tomatoes lists it as “fresh” and Vox gives it 3/5 stars. But the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal both called it a bore.
So what gives?
If you’re a child of the 70’s or 80’s AND a science fiction fan, you’ve probably seen Ridley Scott’s Alien. I mean, of course you have. Not only was that movie epically horrifying, it starred Sigourney Freaking Weaver, a total babe. The film was also revolutionary. Ms. Weaver paved the way for female action stars.
I say all of this because, in the sci-fi world, Alien was significant. It became a benchmark for what science fiction horror films in space are supposed to be.
Which is why Life is getting such a bad rap, I believe. The film is eerily similar to Alien, even down to the number of crew members involved (six). But instead of being stuck with a volatile alien onboard a ship in deep space (Alien), the crew in Life is stuck on the ISS (International Space Station).
Compared to Alien, yeah, the film falls short. It isn’t as gory, scary, or campy as the 1979 hit…but there are a couple of subtle differences that, in my opinion, make the film really shine.
I found the film extremely believable. In the opening scene, we follow the astronauts as they “fly” through the space station. Obviously, I’ve never been to the ISS, but a criticism I have of most science fiction films/tv shows set in space is that the space ship/space station is way too big. In reality, any structure in space would be compact. Life met my expectations: the living spaces (and corridors in between) were small. I have to give credit to the director, Daniel Espinosa. His ISS was LEGIT.
(On another note, the opening scene was really, really cool. It was one continuous shot and I’m still trying to wrap my head around how the actors, Espinosa, and the cinematographer were able to successfully create a believable scene set in zero gravity.)
Additionally, the premise of the movie is so plausible, I don’t really consider it science fiction. Right now, we have a rover on the surface of Mars, collecting samples. In the near future, real-life astronauts examining samples from Mars aboard the real-life ISS is a very real possibility.
I think the ending was one of the best parts of the film (it should be, right?!). Without giving anything away, I was on the edge of my seat, shaking with anxiety. I had no idea what was going to happen. Not to sound like a snob, but when it comes to stories, in any form, it’s hard to surprise me. Let’s just say I was taken aback.
Ok, so all in all, Life was pretty good. It wasn’t incredible, but it certainly wasn’t a bad movie. I don’t even think it’s an average movie. Sure, the alien kinda looked like a stingray on crack, but it was still pretty freaky and definitely scary. I found myself internally shouting at characters, willing them not to do anything stupid (even though I knew they inevitably would).
My ranking? I’d give it a solid B. Would I recommend seeing it in the theater? Yes. While it certainly isn’t as visually impactful as Gravity, the vastness of space is definitely depicted in Life…and who doesn’t want to experience that on the big screen?
So, why not give it a chance? It is a good film, truly. The production value is incredible and while the story isn’t unique (what is these days?), there are a few differences that make it entertaining. And again, I cannot stress enough how believable this movie is. If you’ve listened to my podcast, you know I would go to Mars in a heartbeat. This film has forced me to reconsider that.