2 stars out of 4
In space no one can hear you scream, as the tagline for 1979’s Alien goes. This is the rare piece of promotional material that refers to the laws of physics; space is a vacuum – in other words, it is empty – and cannot therefore transmit sound, which needs a medium in which to travel.
Life, the newest movie (aside from Alien: Convenant) to pay homage (read: rip off) the Alien series, is also pretty vacuum-ous. The attractive-but-bland stock characters are paper thin, and the plot can be summarized by a phrase, like “alien kills everyone”. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t hear it scream. The story -- about a handful of astronauts onboard the ISS who discover a single celled organism on the surface of Mars and proceed to study it, feed it, and run away from it -- is full of screams.
Crew members scream “shut the (door, vent, hatch)!” The crew, all known only by their obligatory science fiction-friendly monosyllabic names, like Sho, or Kat, scream at each other to get moving, to hold on, or to look out. They scream when they are eaten, or mangled, or decompressed out of air locks. The audience, jaded from having taken countless similar excursions, will check their cell phones, or yawn.
It’s not that the movie is bad, because it’s not so much bad as rote., feeling as if some studio executive watched Gravity and wondered “where’s the alien?” As such, it expends a lot of energy trying to follow those aforementioned rules of physics. There are action sequences revolving around a docking Soyuz, the life-support systems of the Tranquility module, reservoirs of coolant, something called an oxygen candle, even the suction capacity of the onboard toilet. But what there isn’t, for the most part, are interesting ideas.
Even the monster feels familiar, though it’s not the spiny, chitinous S&M-influenced insect design exemplified in the Alien movies. Instead, it’s an indefinite CGI blob covered in flippers and flagella. What matters is that unfortunately, despite the film assuring us throughout that it is smart and ruthless, it hasn’t got much personality.
Nevertheless, Life is not entirely without its charms. Its best sequences manage some claustrophobic discomfort. Even if it falls short of being scary, per se. And science fiction addicts (I'm one; you probably are too) are a little like goats in that they’ll consume anything, so dig in. Even so, I can't really bring myself to recommend that you choose Life.