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"Life" Review

When you're telling a story about the discovery of extraterrestrial life which turns into an alien loose on a space station knocking off the crew one by one, but someone beat you to the title Alien, you either try and come up with something catchy or settle for the bland and uncompelling Life, which is ironic considering how little intelligent life is present.

The alarm bells go off early in the opening shot, a needlessly showy single-take shot swooping around a moodily-lit International Space Station, introducing us to the crew, who for the sake of I don't care and it doesn't matter I will call Deadpool, Donnie Darko, Discount Idris Elba, Natasha Fatale, White Queen, and Japanese Dad. Since the ISS is familiar to anyone who has watched the news, the lack of verisimilitude (i.e. the real one is lit brightly) combined with the astronauts swearing up a storm (e.g. Deadpool shouts, "Instagram that, motherf*ckers!" - and I complain as someone who uses gratuitous profanity liberally, but I'm not an astronaut) make things feel wrong and it doesn't get better.

Their mission to retrieve a Mars probe - the particulars don't make sense - leads to the discovery of a single-cell organism. Not having seen a sci-fi movie ever, they adjust the environment in the isolation box to encourage its growth and definitely not having paid attention to Prometheus decide touching the cute widdle critter is a great life choice. (Spoiler: It's not.) It rapidly escapes and proves itself much smarter than the crew, not that these astronauts are really rocket scientists.

At its core, Life is DOA because the thinly-sketched characters are idiots doing dumb things because that's what's necessary to keep the plot stumbling forward. The squid-like alien seems able to enter and exit the station at will as if the fire-extinguishing system connects to the coolant supply and it can climb into the thrusters and exit inside the ship as if the whole place had doggie doors. We're also supposed to believe the communications system completely fails, leaving them unable to inform Earth as to what's happening, due to the alien drinking the ship's coolant and there are no backups. Super convenient that we can go to Mars to pick up alien life, but can't have backup systems. (If you saw The Martian you'll remember the plot point about all the redundant systems they'd have to circumvent in order to hijack the ship to rescue Matt Damon.)

It's too bad so much of Life depends on everyone being brain dead because director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) does put together some impressively tense sequences which would have you holding your breath if not for the fact you're laughing at how stupid and far-fetched the cause of that tension is. A scene where a spacewalking astronaut is drowning in their suit because the alien has somehow managed to cause the coolant to leak into the suit requires the viewer to believe that there is that much liquid in the suit and that it could be caused to spill without breaching the suit; better to have had the monster clawing its way in.

At the very end, in a sequence completely ripped-off from Gravity down to certain shots, there are confusing details in a couple of shots which makes you wonder what is happening. It turns out to be deliberate to have one last whammy. It's actually the final insult of our intelligence.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.


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