It is frankly impossible to discuss Life without mentioning the horror sci-fi classic Alien (1979). Right down to its premise, Life attempts to channel the themes, paranoia and claustrophobia, that made Alien the success it was. Right down to specific plot points and the number of crewman on board, it is more than clear that at some point in the scripting process, someone saw fit to take ‘inspirational notes’ from Dan O’Bannon’s original script.
As has become a noticeable trend in recent years, the film opens with one continuous shot, attempting to bring the audience into the space station and situation, as if they were one of the crew man. While effective, especially in regards to the scene, it feels as though it takes place far too early within the film’s story, something they should have taken note of from Alien. The inciting incident, finding the alien specimen, becomes the opening point of the film. Allowing the audience no time to get to know the cast of characters, or gain a familiarity with the setting. Something compensated for with its setting of the ISS orbiting Earth, an attempt to create a familiarity with the audience due to the stations own presence in real life, and in media. While the crew are given brief scenes to attempt to explain their characters, they are largely interchangeable, with only minor points to distinguish them. Over all however, each actor plays their part well and believably, providing at least interesting puppets non the less.
The film, in terms of cinematography and movement, takes clear influence from 2013s Gravity. Including the film’s opening continuous shot, and the manner to which the characters move about the ship. While Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson franticly make their way through the stations compartments, images of Sandra Bullock’s own escape attempts spring to mind, creating a believable sense of movement, and a true visual spectacle on the big screen. The sense of dread and claustrophobia is well founded, with the ever present threat, the creature escaping to Earth, is ever present. The ominous figure of the Earth looming in the background, emphasising the very real threat at hand. Something I feel works in this films favour, especially in comparison to Alien. While the threat is similar and the danger just as real, the idea of the creature finding it’s was to Earth, while a possibility, is less of a concern in Alien. We are led to believe that the Nostromo and her crew are lightyears away from the planet and civilisation, something confounded by the fact that it takes Ripley’s escape pod 57 years to be found in Aliens (1986). However, this created a very different terror for the viewer, as in Alien, we worry for the characters safety, something that is far easier to comprehend, compared to the fate of the entire planet. The comparison Arthur Dent makes in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy (1978) springs to mind, his inability to comprehend the destruction of the Earth, but the understanding that he will never have a Big Mac again terrifies him with realisation that everything he knew is gone.
The stand out of the film however, can be found in its gorgeous creature design. If the Xenomorph is phallic in nature, than Calvin is the epitome of feminine beauty. A gelatinous creature, constructed of curves and smooth edges, that moves gracefully through the environment. A creature clearly taking influence from animals such as jellyfish and octopus, Calvin’s design is at once beautiful and terrifying, but above all, memorable. The creature is indeed a figure of a graceful death, swooping the air and entrapping it’s victims with all the grace of a ballet dancer.
As a whole, the film provides a modern day interpretation of a haunted house in space. And while it is impossible to talk about the film without comparing it to Alien, it doesn’t come off as nearly the rip off it initially appeared. In fact I would hazard to say, that the film would have made a fine edition to the franchise as a prequel entry. However, given the time of its release, come May and the release of Alien: Covenant (2017), it is likely to be forgotten, or overlooked as the apparent rip off it seemed.
Life (2017) is in Cinemas now.