I’d put off watching LIFE (2017, streaming on Netflix) as I hadn’t heard much good about it and it seemed an updated Hollywood spin on ALIEN. Despite both being true, I enjoyed it quite a bit and recommend it for sci-fi and horror fans looking for something engaging and punchy in familiar territory.
The film opens with a probe returning from Mars with soil samples, which is caught by the International Space Station with its six-person crew played by solid actors like Jake Gyllenhaal (of course playing a somewhat melancholy earnest guy) and Ryan Reynolds (of course playing a wisecracking astronaut). They find an organism in the soil, which they nurture and experiment with, fascinated by its ability to adapt, grow, and learn. Predictably, it breaks out of the lab, threatens everybody on the station, and poses a threat to Earth.
As far as horror and action go, it’s all pretty solid and follows a familiar path if you’ve ever seen ALIEN. It doesn’t make you jump in your seat, but it’s fun. The ending is an easy guess but nicely done as it took some courage to go there. Where the film shined for me is in its world building.
The space station is very well crafted. It lacks the lived-in grunge of ALIEN’S NOSTROMO but makes you feel like they really shot it in the space station. But that’s not the best part. I love sci-fi films where a space station, planet, spaceship, whatever offers a sandbox for the characters to face challenges and then solve their problems using the available tools. While I may not be surprised that little critter will escape and kill people, I can be surprised with the little problems and solutions the characters face and come up with due to their unique environment.
Besides that, I liked how the writers didn’t try to snare me with international rivalries or contrived conflicts between the characters. They’re all happy to be up there, they work together well, and they’re bonded by their joint mission to explore. They all behave somewhat realistically under stress, and nobody does anything stupid purely to advance the plot. The storytelling is sparse but also very tight and focused.
As for the monster, it’s pretty cool, though not as cool as other, far more creepier and menacing space monsters in other films. Still, it comes across as somewhat believable.
So overall, for me, LIFE only suffers in its comparison to its horror ancestry. Taken by itself, it’s a solid survival horror flick and sci-fi thriller.