Contains SpoilersThis film is currently available on Sky Cinema. If you are planning on watching it shortly, do not read this review as it contains plot spoilers. This may diminish you enjoyment of the film.
The unmanned Pilgrim 7 space probe is returning from Mars to Earth with a soil sample that might contain evidence of extra-terrestrial life, when it enters an asteroid field and is severely damaged.
The six-member International Space Station crew captures the spacecraft and exobiologist Hugh Derry revives a dormant cell from the sample; it quickly grows into a multi-celled organism that American school children name “Calvin”. He realizes that the cells can change their specialisation – like muscle, sensor, neuron – during their life span, unlike the cells in terrestrial organisms. After an atmospheric accident in the lab, Calvin becomes dormant. Hugh revives Calvin with a mild electric shock, but Calvin immediately becomes hostile and attacks Hugh, crushing his hand. While Hugh lies unconscious from Calvin’s attack, Calvin uses the electric shock tool Hugh wielded to escape its enclosure. Now free in the lab room, Calvin devours a lab rat by absorbing it and grows in size. Engineer Rory Adams uses the opportunity to enter the room and rescue Hugh. However, Calvin latches onto Rory’s leg and physician David Jordan locks Rory in the room to keep Calvin contained. After Rory unsuccessfully attacks Calvin with a flame thrower, Calvin enters his mouth, killing him by devouring his organs from the inside. Emerging from Rory’s mouth even larger, Calvin escapes through a fire-control vent. Hugh theorizes that lack of breathable air on Mars is what kept the organism dormant.
Finding their communication with Earth cut off, due to overheating of the communication systems, mission commander Ekaterina Golovkina performs a spacewalk to fix the overheating. Calvin, having breached the cooling systems, attacks her outside the Space Station and ruptures her spacesuit’s coolant system in the process, causing the toxic coolant to fill her helmet. She struggles to get back inside the Space Station, but eventually realizes that Calvin will also be able to re-enter. She refuses to open the airlock to seek help, and stops David from doing so as well. This keeps Calvin out of the station, but also causes Ekaterina to drown in her spacesuit and her body to drift away into space.
Calvin attempts to enter the station through the thrusters. The crew try to use the thrusters to prevent Calvin from entering these openings, but their attempts fail and the station loses too much fuel. The Space Station’s orbit begins to decay, which will eventually cause the station to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. Pilot Sho Murakami informs the crew that they need to use the remaining fuel to get back into a safe orbit, but the attempt would allow Calvin back into the station. The crew then plan to make Calvin dormant by sealing themselves into one module and venting the atmosphere from the rest of the station.
After the remaining crew finalise preparations, Hugh enters cardiac arrest. The crew then discover that Calvin has been feeding off Hugh’s leg. Having grown into a larger tentacled creature, Calvin attacks the remainder of the crew. Sho seals himself in a sleeping pod as Calvin attempts to crack the glass and consume him. David and the quarantine officer Miranda North use Hugh’s corpse as bait to lure Calvin away from Sho and trap it in a module to deprive it of oxygen.
Having received a distress call prior to the damage to the Space Station’s communication system, Earth sends a Soyuz capsule as a fail-safe plan to push the station into deep space. The capsule docks with the station and starts pushing it into deep space. Believing the situation to be a rescue mission, Sho leaves his pod and rushes to board the arriving ship, forcing open the capsule’s hatch; Calvin then attacks him and the Soyuz crew. The encounter causes a docking breach that results in the capsule detaching and crashing into the Space Station, killing Sho and the Soyuz pilots. David and Miranda, the only two survivors, now realize that the incident has again caused them to enter a decaying orbit. Aware that Calvin could survive re-entry, David recalls two escape pods, planning to lure Calvin into one pod and pilot it into deep space, allowing Miranda to escape in the other pod.
David lures Calvin into his pod while Miranda enters her pod, creating a black box message notifying the world about her colleagues’ deaths and containing instructions to destroy Calvin should he make his way to Earth. Both then launch their pods at the same time. As they make their way, one of the pods hits debris and is knocked off course. In David’s pod, Calvin attacks him as he struggles to send the pod into deep space. The pods then separate; the earthbound pod performs a controlled re-entry and lands in the ocean near a boat with two Vietnamese fishermen. As they approach and look inside the pod, it is revealed to be that of David, who is encased in a web-like substance. Meanwhile, due to damage sustained from hitting the debris, Miranda’s navigation system malfunctions and fails, and she screams in helpless horror realizing the hostile organism might reach the earth in the other pod, while hers is hurtling into deep space.
Back on Earth, despite David’s warnings the fishermen open the hatch, releasing Calvin onto Earth.
The film opened to pretty mixed reviews and audience figures that were pretty average. This was mostly because it was released at the same time as Kong: Skull Island, Power Rangers and CHiPs – taking away some of its gloss. Despite this, Life grossed $30.2 million in the United States and Canada and $70.3 million in other territories for a worldwide gross of $100.5 million, against a production costs of $58 million.
To emulate the lack of gravity, the actors were suspended by wires that were erased in post-production. Most of the visual effects were handled by Double Negative, aside from the eight-minute long take that opens the movie, done by Industrial Light & Magic using an International Space Station model sculpted by Double Negative.
Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal said of the film, “For all its flashy trappings, weighty ruminations and zero-gravity floating aboard the International Space Station, Life turns out to be another variant of Alien, though without the grungy horror and grim fun. In space no one can hear you snore.” Describing the theme of outer space, Ben Konigsberg of The New York Times said “As the astronauts contend with airlocks, busted equipment and escape pods, it becomes increasingly difficult to pretend that this isn’t territory where more inventive screenwriters and stronger visual stylists have gone before.” Peter Travers of Rolling Stone faulted not the scenes but the performances, saying there was “not a single actor in Life who manages to fill in and humanize the blank space where a character should be.”
Although I have to confess that most of the Jammy Toast inhabitants are Sci-Fi fans we loved the film and found it both exciting and nerve-jangling. In particular, Jake Gyllenhaal as medical officer Dr David Jordan, is fantastic. He seems to be the only character who has any idea of how to survive the situation they find themselves in while many of the other make poor decisions. While this may be bad for the character’s health, it is great for the movie. Life has some pretty cool special effects and is suspenseful with twists and turns right to the end.
It is very similar to Alien, which is a better film, but Life still works in its own right and is a very entertaining couple of hours!