An alien horror film is only as strong as its main creature and the terror it causes on its unsuspecting victims. For that reason, Life is about as simple as the genre gets. Six people encounter an ever-evolving alien and attempt to survive; that’s it. It doesn’t weigh itself down with backstory or logistics and instead just delivers one terrifyingly tense moment after another.
Six crew members (Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya) aboard the International Space Station have received a sample from Mars of what may be the first extraterrestrial lifeform. They are able to bring the creature, nicknamed Calvin by the people of Earth, out of a state of hibernation, but things quickly turn ugly when Calvin begins to show signs of intelligence and grow hostile. Realizing the danger Calvin possesses, the crew must figure out a way to kill it or make sure it has no way of reaching Earth before it kills all of them.
Life almost immediately draws comparisons to Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise, and it’s clear to see why. There’s an alien aboard a spaceship terrorizing its crew which they can’t let return back to Earth or else it would mean the extinction of life as we know it. Unlike a xenomorph, however, Calvin isn’t as mysterious and doesn’t hide in the shadows. He’s almost always visible, but that doesn’t make him any less terrifying.
It’s Calvin’s sheer power and methods through which he kills his victims that leave you gasping for words. Initially an amorphous blob of cells, Calvin quickly evolves into this octopus-like viper that squeezes the life out of anyone he feels threatened by. He’s extremely strong and can survive without oxygen for extended periods of time. The biggest problem of the film is that he can feel too overwhelming powerful at times. There’s simply no way to kill or even harm this thing. Apparently the only thing he can’t do, as intelligent as he may be, is open any kind of doors. Despite all those appendages and strength, he still can’t turn a lever.
Even though Calvin is nearly indestructible, Life does a good job at delivering a solid horror experience. The film may follow the same tropes of the genre, but it does pack a punch when necessary. The deaths are brutal, and the special effects are top notch. It doesn’t waste time exploring characters you know are just going to die soon anyway. The opening scene alone is this beautiful one shot take that last for minutes as it sets up the events of the film. From there on out it’s a fight for survival, both for Calvin and the ISS crew.
Life captures the beauty of Gravity coupled with the terror of Alien. There’s nothing too groundbreaking about the film, but it does a solid job with all the elements of a horror film. If you’re looking for a good scare, you won’t be disappointed.