“You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? The perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.”
Alien is the second feature film from British director Ridley— wait. Wrong film. Life, directed by Daniel Espinosa, follows the six-person crew of the International Space Station as they intercept a space probe containing soil samples from Mars. As they study the Martian dirt, the crew discovers the first evidence of extraterrestrial life and, soon after, it doesn’t take long for the, you-know-what, to hit the fan.
ONE MORE TIME WITH FEELING
Let’s start with the positives! The cast is strong. Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sandana, Ariyon Bakare and Olga Dihovichnaya all give solid performances despite being let down by paper-thin, shallow writing and characterisation. We’re given moments that are supposed to add depth and emotional weight to the characters but they fall flat. The film doesn’t earn the investment it wants us to have in the characters and the story because everything is devoid of any semblance of personality. Oh, but positives!
The alien, lovingly named Calvin by school kids back home on Earth, is a surprisingly terrifying creation and is the most animated and enjoyable character in the movie. Calvin is part of a tradition of movie horror aliens with the xenomorph from Alien being its most obvious ancestor. Calvin is part face hugger, part squid, part flying-lotus. The design is truly intriguing, at times disgusting, and always unsettling. The only drawback to the creature’s characterisation is the fact that Espinosa feels the need to show things from its visual perspective without any justification whatsoever. It adds nothing. All it is, is a weak homage to the alien thermal imaging POV from Predator and Espinosa doesn’t do it even half as effectively. Ultimately, this and the fact that it becomes a generic, unkillable, killing machine, holds it back from being a truly memorable movie monster. While it’s design does impress, much like the acting, it is hampered by a weak script.
READ AND WEEP
That’s about it for the positives and that wasn’t all that positive. The main problem holding Life back is (can you guess?) the writing. Alarm bells begin to ring at the beginning of the film when the first piece of dialogue is a voiceover narration explaining to the audience the situation the characters are currently in; breaking one of the main tenets of filmmaking: SHOW DON’T TELL. Then there’s the movie’s originality. Or lack thereof. There’s nothing wrong with a film having clear influences so long as they’re used in a creative or new way. Life breaks no new ground despite picking bits and pieces from some of the classics of its genre. Instead, it churns out cliched and dull characters with little in the way of ingenuity; story-wise, technically or thematically.
Words by Stephen Pringle