Life: A Space Horror Flick - Movie Review

I've mentioned this before (perhaps not here, but, you know, before) that one of the best lessons Hollywood has learned in the last few years is that a high concept horror film can actually be very successful if you keep the budget under control and market it right. Over the past few years, we've been inundated with a veritable cornucopia of good, low budget, horror flicks: Get Out, It Follows, The Witch, the list goes on.

But just because a horror film knows its limitations doesn't mean it's necessarily going to be good. The Paranormal Activity movies  kicked off this little wavelet, and they haven't been good since the first one. Also Ouija. Ouija sucks. Anyway, the end point there is that while I've been satisfied with low budget horror, it means we've had a dearth of horror flicks with good sized budgets, especially sci-fi. Come on guys, Prometheus was five years ago, let's get back to it.

Our plot concerns a small group of astronauts on the International Space Station, waiting for a probe full of samples from Mars. Our primary characters are David (Jake Gyllenhaal), chief medical officer, Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson), the quarantine officer, Roy (Ryan Reynolds) the systems engineer and Hugh (Ariyon Bakare) a biologist. Also Ekatrina (Olga Dihovichnaya) and Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada) are there.

"I'll let you out once you agree to watch Nightcrawler."
But we can't just have a movie about some dudes looking at soil samples for 2 hours, so it turns out there's alien life in the soil sample. The alien life, which they name Calvin for reasons, begins rapidly growing but eventually goes dormant due to an accident. When it wakes up, it decides it wants to be a horror movie villain, rampaging through the crew and ship, slipping past their attempts to contain it.

Life is a movie I was pretty satisfied with throughout most of its runtime, but as it went on, it gradually lost me more and more. It's not a particularly bad movie by any means, and it certainly has its moments, but it's also nothing in particular to write home about. Then again, it's April, i.e. the new dead zone between February/March good stuff and the summer blockbuster season so maybe "Yeah, it's alright," is all we can hope for.

If I had to identify a reason to see Life it's how it uses its setting. Plenty of horror flicks are set in or around the one place that hasn't been corrupted by capitalism, but most of them don't really use their space setting effectively. But Life actually does, putting a lot of effort into turning things like zero gravity, or the hostile outside into elements of the film, rather than just set dressing. I'd like to see Jason X do that.

"I'm just going to touch the unknown life form. What could possibly go wrong?"
Of course the flip side of that is, once you've adjusted to the setting being space core's favorite place, you start to see where the film gets its ideas, and how generic the actual horror moments are. There are a few exceptions (including a pretty unique spin on an established element) but for the most part, the scares are just vacuum effected variations on the existing horror lexicon. Sure it's in a sleeping pod, but how many times have we seen the killer menacing a victim it can see, but can't reach?

Still, the scare sequences are reasonably effective, and all the actors commit to their roles admirably, which carries the movie a lot farther than it might have gone otherwise. The effects used to create Calvin are solid, if not particularly remarkable, and the cinematography is surprisingly good. Not like, Coen Brothers level or anything, but for a middling budget horror flick released in April, they clearly put a lot of thought and effort into how the camera moves throughout the space station.

But now we come to my big issue, which is the ending. Already by the end of the movie, it was beginning to wear on me. The first half of the film is really well paced, so for the second half to begin to drag as much as it did is already disappointing, but not particularly bad. But the final minutes in particular are just frustrating, blowing past a really solid ending to extend the movie for another 10 minutes, on its way to an ending that's both kind of lame and renders the 10 extra minutes completely moot.

"Hey, have you ever played Alien Isol-"
"Yes, stop asking."
When talking about this movie with a friend, they made a comparison to last year's 10 Cloverfield Lane, which in retrospect I don't think is entirely fair to 10 Cloverfield Lane. Yeah it had a divisive ending, but it was a bold ending, and one I really liked, and on its way there it was creative, engaging and intense. Life has a lame ending, and it doesn't do all it could in the lead in to it. There are far worse things you could do with your time, but in the end, I don't really think it's worth paying theater prices to see. Maybe wait for Redbox?

Or don't; Get Out is still probably playing.

Elessar is a 27 year old Alaskan-born, Connecticut-based, cinephile with an obsession with The Room and a god complex.