At first glance, the latest sci-fi movie coming to the multiplex, “Life” (opening March 24), looks like a thriller with the same kind of “in space no one can hear you scream” DNA that made the first “Alien” movie back in 1979 a cultural phenomenon. And you would be right.
“Life” is not the first movie in the past 30-plus years set in space that wants to scare the heck out of you. And basing the scares around a creepy organism that we gullible humans find on another planet is tried-and-true. But there are little tweaks to the formula that director Daniel Espinosa and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (of “Deadpool” fame) do that makes this particular movie very fun to experience.
What I respect a lot about this movie is, for a big budget blockbuster from a major studio such as Sony, it doesn’t look to cater to all audiences. That’s evident in its opening, which is a single shot that goes on for around five minutes or so – a very ambitious move.
But Espinosa does this to cleverly kill two birds with one stone: the single shot gives us the layout of the international space station, where we will be spending most of our time throughout the movie; and also shows a major moment in the movie, the crew retrieving a probe back from Mars with a sample from the planet.
We find out that the sample is the first proof of life on Mars.
Then we’re given the usual beats of the space thriller: getting to know the crew, including the wise ass Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds); the person in charge of the mission’s risk management, Miranda Bragg (Rebecca Ferguson); Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), who will be doing the experimenting on the Mars life form, and Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has recently broken the record for most time in space.
Jokes are constant and we’re shown that back down on Earth, where everyone is celebrating the news of the discovery on Mars, a school has been rewarded with the honor of naming the Martian – calling it Calvin.
But, as you would imagine (or if you’ve seen the trailer), something goes terribly wrong. Calvin turns out not to be the cute little thing it first looked to be and soon is crawling throughout the ship looking to kill the whole crew.
Oh, and it’s growing in size, by the way.
From then on, the jump scares are constant, as well as homages to “Alien” (even Calvin having a tracking device on it so the crew knows where it is on the ship and Ferguson doing voice over diary logs a la Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley character).
And I would be the first to say that this is a total rip-off of “Alien” if it weren’t for the last five minutes of the movie, which makes the entire film worth the watch. I’m not going to give it away – all I’ll say is Ferguson is certainly not this movie’s Ripley and the story turns out to be nothing like “Alien.”
“Life” is the perfect buy-the-ticket-take-the-ride Saturday night movie. If you’re looking to cuddle up and squeeze your partner’s arm for 100 minutes, this is for you. It’s a thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat the whole time and has an ending you will never see coming.
But if Sony is smart it will make this movie a one-and-done.
If it’s not made into a franchise, I could see “Life” becoming a cult classic. With a disregard to pander to its audience (and the huge movie stars that inhabit it), “Life” has the potential of building a loyal fan base, and if Sony goes long tail with this, I would not be shocked if the next generation of movie lovers see this as a landmark title in the sci-fi genre.
In the meantime, just ignore everyone who calls it an “Alien” rip-off.