Film snobs forget that some of the best movies ever made are remakes. John Carpenter's 1982 masterpiece "The Thing," was a remake of the goofy 1951 monster movie "The Thing From Another World." David Cronenberg's 1986 body horror shocker, "The Fly," was a remake of a ridiculous 1958 flick of the same name. What these remakes have in common is that they're far superior to the originals. "Life" feels like a solid remake to a movie I've never seen before, but in reality it's a homage to the truly lasting sci-fi/horror flicks of the last 40 years.
"Life" takes place aboard the international space station as six astronauts make the most important discovery in human history. A sample from a space probe they receive from Mars offers the first real evidence of extraterrestrial life. The organism they find appears to be dormant, but quickly grows into a multi-celled creature, once given breathable atmosphere. Things escalate from there.
Obviously (since this is a movie), the creature starts killing the crew one at a time, which is normally a good time at the movies, but the death and destruction needs to be original enough to carry the repetitive plot. If the mayhem isn't that strong, then the actors need to be compelling in their own right to be worth rooting for. "Life" takes some out of column A and some out of column B to give us a few memorable deaths and some well calibrated performances, but not much else.
"Life" wants to be a loving homage to classic monster movies such as "The Thing" and "Alien," but instead feels like the bastard child of "Gravity," "Pitch Black" and "Predator." Luckily, director Daniel Espinosa escalates the intensity because, even when the film is familiar, it's still pretty fun and fast- paced. Plus, the astronauts are being played by the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds and Rebecca Ferguson, so even when things are quiet the emotional center is there.
The monster itself looks like a combination of a jellyfish, an octopus and some gummy worms, which is actually more frightening than it sounds. The way it slinks around the cabin of the spacecraft is quite intense, since the creature (named Calvin) can kill quickly and easily. The astronauts don't stand much of a chance against Calvin, but it's hard not to root for them anyway.
"Life" wants to have deeper thematic content on its mind, things such as the lengths humanity will go to to protect life, but really only works when it's content to be a goofy creature feature. But isn't that enough? The film is slickly made and garnished with a few pretty nasty surprises. Even though it doesn't necessarily elevate the genre, maybe it doesn't need to. Maybe it can exist just like Calvin, as a hybrid bastard creation of good, bad and everything in between.
Dir. Daniel Espinosa
Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX