Hey, remember that space octopus movie that you didn’t want? Well it’s here. Is it a ‘Venom’ prequel? Nope. (Sorry, Reddit.) Is it a good movie? Not really. (Sorry, world.) Will anyone remember ‘Life’ existed next week? Definitely not. (Sorry, everyone who made this.)
1979’s ‘Alien’ might have told us that in space no one can hear you scream, but over the years the real lesson it taught was that if you make an iconic hit, you will be ripped off endlessly. I mean, fair enough. Great monster movies thrive in isolated locations with no escape from the beastie. A spaceship is a genius location for such a deadly attack. It only makes sense that the premise would repeat time and again. First Roger Corman commissioned some knockoffs, then Hollywood followed suit. It never stopped. You’d think that ‘Leprechaun 4: In Space’ might have reached a designated end point for this genre. Sadly, no. They keep coming. Now here’s ‘Life’, a big-budget variant with movie stars. This one has plenty of tentacles, though. That’s good news for fetishists, at least.
The story takes place on one of them fancy international space stations filled up with homesick scientists pretending not to be claustrophobic. Ryan Reynolds is there. So is Jake Gyllenhaal, along with a gang of lesser known performers. The big MacGuffin comes in the form of a tiny bit of biological life found beneath Mars’ crust. The astronauts are all excited. This is the type of discovery that will make them legends. Unfortunately, and you’re not going to believe this, that life is hostile. The little thing starts attacking, eating and growing. Eventually, it grows tentacles ‘n stuff. Conventions founded in ‘Alien’ and ripped off through the years dictate that one of the famous faces must die quickly as a shock to show that no one’s safe. Then it’s ‘Ten Little Indians’ time, but in space. You know, where no one can hear you scream even though there will be plenty of squealing.
The only differences between ‘Life’ and a direct-to-VOD ‘Alien’ knockoff are the big budget and presence of movie stars. This really shouldn’t be a major studio release. Likely, it only is one because the massive success of ‘Deadpool’ meant that writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick could dust off an old script and sell it at a premium (especially if they could sweet talk Ryan Reynolds into lending his face to the poster). And that’s just what happened. This is a completely generic B-movie written because it seemed like something that a moderately successful writing team might be able to sell with an easy pitch. You’d hope that the fact they suddenly were able to get their B-movie an A budget might result in some increase in ambition or style. No such luck. This thing pretty much plays out exactly as you’d expect from the order of the deaths down to the stock sci-fi themes. It feels like a feature-length trailer for a better movie that never arrives.
The creature is somewhat interesting, rapidly growing and morphing and killing in surprising ways. Obviously, it’s just a twist on ‘Alien’, but at least it’s a twist. Nothing quite as kind can be said about the human characters, who are either glowering clichés or wise-cracking clichés. Despite a couple stars and talents trying their best, you end up rooting for the monster and cheering on the deaths. On the plus side, the writers get that and play into it. The movie can be a bit nastier than most generic studio horror/sci-fi outings, with some fairly vicious murders and a suitably cynical ending.
Director Daniel Espinosa (whose undistinguished career only landed him the job because he’d worked with Reynolds before in ‘Safe House’) builds a pretty world off the backs of recent sci-fi success stories, stealing techniques from ‘Gravity’ and so forth to make some impressive and expensive images. His set-pieces work well enough because the cinematic grammar for this stuff is so well established and the visual effects team is never asked to do anything that hasn’t been proven possible before. As far as big boring generic genre movies shat outta Hollywood go, you could probably do worse than ‘Life’. We just all deserve better.