Rated R for super-duper alien violence that involves crushing people to death and people barfing up blood with the alien. Also, the alien is extremely gross looking, especially if you have anxiety about tentacles. There's some language, but that tends to get buried when there's a tentacle creature crushing folks and making them die horrible, horrible deaths. R.
DIRECTOR: Daniel Espinosa
It's October. I honestly thought that I would be able to start the month with Life, but I'm a dumb person who thought that September had 31 days, not 30. I just keep seeing that people are doing horror movies for all of October and part of me really wants to do that. After all, that kind of scans with my personality. I've done it in the past. But that also being said, I'm not really feeling it this year. I think I might watch more horror than I usually do, but an all-horror October seems both like a burden and impossible considering that I'm a father of four tiny people. But at least I have a horror movie that just happened to hit my early October list, so I can do something with that.
I don't know what the message is with Life. That's not entirely true, but I do want to talk about the amorphous (pun intended) concept that the movie is trying to play with. We've heard the Icarus metaphor used for scientific exploration before. A group of scientists, with thoughts of changing the world for the better, unleash something that has to potential to wipe out civilization. It's the Oppenheimer issue and we've heard it before. In terms of analysis, I've nailed it. But have I really?
I think back on how much I adore the O.G. Day the Earth Stood Still. If you haven't watched it, definitely avoid the remake and watch the original. The message of that film is this counter-culture idea that we're so paranoid about threats from outer space that we ignore that we are the toxic threat. I dig this. It's very Star Trek. Now, I also dig Alien. I can't help but make a ton of comparisons between Life and Alien. Honestly, I don't think that there could be a Life without Ridley Scott's original Alien movie. But the reason that I can kind of be put off by Life and still completely embrace the original Alien as one of the best horror movies ever made is the characterization of the protagonists.
Life is about a handful of the world's best and brightest scientists / astronauts. The culmination of cooperation, the scientists of the International Space Station have discovered proof of life on Mars. This life, similar to the water discovered on Mars, is in such a microscopic state that it initially poses no threat and just opens the door to the idea of a world where life flourished on Mars. As fun as it is to make a horror movie in space where scientists fight a Martian adaptable creature, shouldn't this behavior be celebrated? What kind of happens is just a promotion of xenophobia. It's kind of the reason that slasher movies are always in reaction to bad behavior. Jason kills because you are being an irresponsible teenager. Freddy always comments on the bad behavior that the kids are into before he rips them apart. With the crew from Alien, they are the employees of a corporation who has little regard for human life. As the franchise progresses, there are few moral scruples that justify the attacks on the employees. While the crew of Nostromo are probably morally okay, the attack represents corporate greed. With Alive, what good does it do to condemn the actions of these intellectuals.
Now, I really do believe that we're just trying to make a horror movie here. It doesn't exactly read like the most intellectual approach to science fiction horror. From that perspective, it probably ticks a lot of good boxes. I mean, it has a brutally bleak ending, which I always appreciate. (I mean, I was hoping that was going to be the result, especially when the warning not to underestimate intelligence was thrown out there.) But the result creates this atmosphere of anti-intellectualism. Frankenstein teeters into that realm as well, but Shelley was never talking about the evils of science, but simply science replacing God. Hugh respects Calvin throughout the entire beginning of the movie. He's not playing God. He's being a parent. There has to be some kind of difference between Hugh and Victor Frankenstein. When Victor Frankenstein sees the product of his work, he freaks out and gives this life distanced freedom without any kind of molding. But Hugh never becomes un-nurturing. If anything, Hugh treats his science experiment with respect, a similar respect to the message of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Yet, it is this creature who becomes aggressive and unimaginably greedy. There's this line in the film --I think it was about entropy --that says that creatures need to feed to survive. It might have been Hugh who said that. He doesn't hate Hugh because this is simply food gathering for survival. But the movie, to make Calvin terrifying, keeps eating and eating and getting bigger and bigger. His appetite is insatiable. It's The Blob.
So that message about survival doesn't work. Nothing satisfies Calvin. He eats faster and faster. He is lured around the station using oxygen candles (which I'm thinking aren't a real thing). Also, when Calvin is deprived of things that he needs to survive, he seems to be quite resilient. Even apex predators take a break to digest. They don't hunt to extinction. But again, that makes for boring storytelling. Instead, we have the smartest people in the world in a quarantined environment and they still can't manage this creature from getting to Earth. This all returns to my initial statement about the movie. As much as I get that the film is an Icarus / Oppenheimer cautionary tale, what is the message? Should we stop the exploration of space? After all, David hates humanity on Earth for the idea of war. The reason that David is a scientist is because he wants to get away from humanity. He wants the universe to be a better place. Taking all of this into consideration, I can just think that the world is a crappy place and the rest of the universe is even worse.
But here's an even weirder thought. The movie condemns the exploration of Mars. If Earth is populated with all kinds of creatures, some of them alpha predators, what is the assumption that only this kind of creature exists? Anyway...
Life is a fun film, but utterly vapid in terms of taking anything away. It isn't Alien because it is too bombastic. Instead, it's just a bunch of scientists dying horrible deaths by an alien that kind of lacks a personality, despite having a relatable name.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.