The alien space-octopus will eat your ass: “Life”March 27, 2017
Life arrives just in time to offer itself up as a corrective to the critically-adored The Arrival—a movie everyone went gaga over, despite its ludicrous premise. I mean, let’s be realistic here: if/when tentacle aliens encounter humanity they’re not going to be all “Ooo…let’s all be friends and here’s the future history of your unborn daughter, because parenthood is the real awesome mystery!” Nope. They’re pretty much going to be, “RAWR! IMMA EAT YOU!” Life understands that.
Life takes the classic alien-contact story (boy meets alien, alien eats boy) and adds a dash of Gravity to make it more plausible. Our heroes (we’re using that term loosely here—all they mostly do is get killed by the alien) all live on the International Space Station, rather than a deep-space hauler—but otherwise the story is more or less the same.
In this instance, they’re an international team of astronauts studying some soil samples collected from the surface of Mars. Amid the bring Mars dust, they find a single-celled organism, which lead scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) nurses into a healthy, translucent space-octopus-thingee. When the space octopus—which a bunch of school children name “Calvin”—goes into hibernation, Hugh decides the best way to make it entertaining again is to zap it with an electric prod.
Now, I gotta side with the alien-octopus-thingee here: if I was peacefully asleep and someone decided to shock my ass with an electric cattle-prod, I’d be pretty pissed too.
Well, this goes about the way you’d expect, with Calvin going all bitchcakes on the collective asses of the crew—starting with Ryan Reynolds’ Rory North, who he kills in spectacularly grotesque fashion. The rest of the movie sees Quarantine Officer Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) leading a failing effort to contain the growing and ever-more-cunning and vicious Calvin.
It’s easy to write off Life as a simple Alien clone, but that ignores the fact that Alien itself is such a universal story damn near everything is an Alien clone? The Godfather? Basically just Alien with the Italian Mafia. Alien in iambic pentameter. La La Land? Alien in Los Angeles with singing.
There’s actually quite a gulf in the philosophies of the two movies. Where Alien and even Aliens believes in the resiliency of humanity when facing down suffering and death, Life is a far more pessimistic piece of work. As plan after plan of Miranda’s is overcome by the increasingly-smart and adaptive Calvin, and as more people are killed by it, Life betrays a clear lack of faith in humanity’s best efforts or characteristics. Are you a courageous, selfless astronaut willing to die to protect the crew? Doesn’t matter, your ass gets eaten by the alien space-octopus. Are you new father of a little girl? Your ass is still getting eaten by the alien space-octopus. In the end it doesn’t matter what you do, your ass is getting eaten by an alien space-octopus.
I’m not sure Life is reaching for any profound point with this, rather it’s just a result of the direction of Daniel Espinoza, whose last two movies—Safe House and Child 44—took perfectly fun, pulpy premises and made them inordinately dark and weighted. He doesn’t drain all the fun out of Life, but it does carry a lot of his signature dourness. The climax of the film in particular carries a nasty punch I’m not sure the movie necessarily earned.
Still, Life is brisk and scary and gets the job done. More importantly it reminds of two very important things: 1) regardless of what Amy Adams says, aliens want to eat our asses, and 2) we must kill them with fire.