Daniel Espinosa, 2017, USA
Surely it was obvious from the trailer that this was going to be an unambitious ‘Alien’ derivative – and it is. It starts with a long, single take that takes in the entire first scene and gives us a guided tour of the spaceship and crew/victims. This moment and the subsequent “in space” views follow the precedent set by ‘Gravity’. They take onboard a sample of Martian soil and find in a living organism. It’s named “Calvin” by kids back on Earth and soon does what we expect: whilst the humans are falling for it, it starts growing and learning and we just wait for it to turn the tables. Perhaps inevitably, these opening scenes are where the alien is most fascinating, showing its cunning in making a scalpel to wield and then scrambling around the room to make its escape. Then it begins to work its way through the crew, full of actors who are much better than the material but having fun anyhow. There is nothing new here but if you came for the alien, its displays state-of-the-art effects and, perhaps more importantly, “Calvin” is mostly great and fearsome.
In conversation, I was recently in full-flow when berating ‘Kong: Skull Island’ when my friend said, “I think you’re over-thinking it. It’s a film about a giant ape hitting things.” And guilty as charged - that's what I'm here for - but that was because I felt insulted at how it was served up and that meant I didn't feel like enjoying myself so much. It wasn’t the monster stuff I had a problem with – I could even overlook the fact that the island didn’t display at all the wear-and-tear of behemoths and other failures in internal logic – but everything else seemed lazy and weaker. Talking about the original ‘King Kong’ with another friend and I was saying that maybe we overlooked the “Monsters Good/Script Bad” rule that besets these things because that was old, but in the end we agreed that the original ‘Kong’ classic had archetypes that didn’t insult us in the same way. We expect new films to know better, I guess.
All this to say that even if ‘Life’ is derivative, it serves up a good monster and has a decent script, and therefore is genuinely fun. It doesn’t deliver more than it promises but it entertains.