Is there life on Mars? According to this passable sci-fi movie, yes there is and we are better off staying the hell away from it.
Sometimes I just crave a hit of science fiction, despite the quality. I didn’t have any high expectations for Life (even its bland title is hardly inspiring), so I was reasonably entertained despite its highly derivative nature.
The movie takes place onboard the International Space Station, whose crew discover the proof of extraterrestrial life in the soil samples from Mars: an inert single-cell organism. Following the usual human impulse of, what happens if I do this, they prod it into life and watch it grow. At first the creature, nicknamed Calvin, looks all delicate, translucent and enchanting, but quicker than you can say Alien meets Gravity, it turns hostile and the crew’s mission is no longer to study it, but to destroy it. It’s hardly a big spoiler to say that Calvin is much better at hunting down the humans than vice versa and the body count keeps rising.
To give the movie its due, the early scenes with Calvin are genuinely compelling and tense, and the first grisly death got a gagging reflex out of me mostly through its effective sound design. There’s something terrifying about sharing space with a small, fast, lethal creature you can’t track until it’s too late. Once Calvin munches on the crew and grows in size, it turns into a more generic squid-like alien, sadly not anywhere as effective or scary. I wished that it either stayed tiny or went to the other extreme and grown into a giant squid monster – this middle option didn’t cut it for me and the second half of the film is rather more lackluster as a result. There’s also a lot of typical clichéd scenes of characters in the dark cramped corridors slamming doors behind them and twists you can see from miles away.
I’d expect this kind of movie to be populated by a bunch of nobody actors, so it was a bit strange to instead see people like Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, but their familiar faces do a lot to lift thinly drawn characters. There’s an attempt to make the crew feel more well-rounded, with a few sombre reflective scenes sprinkled throughout, but they drag the movie down more than anything else. Life won’t win points for originality or memorable characters, but its zero gravity action and body horror make for a decent enough watch.