Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Life (dir by Daniel Espinosa)


I don’t care what Neil deGrasse Tyson says.  Space is dangerous.

Just judging by what I’ve seen in the movies, it might be a good idea for humanity to stay earthbound.  Seriously, it seems like every time a group of astronauts and scientists spend an extended period of time off of our planet, bad shit happens.  They either end up leaving behind someone on Mars or sometimes they crash land on a planet inhabited by vampires.  Occasionally, they end up with evil creatures bursting out of their chest and, if they’re not careful, they might even end up accidentally traveling all the way to Hell and back.

For that matter, it might be a good idea to also stop listening to Bill Nye.  I’ve seen enough movies to know better than to trust science.  Did you know that every time a revived corpse has gone on a killing spree, a scientist has been to blame?  In the movies, science always says it’s going to make the world a better place but ultimately, it just seems to make things worse.

Consider Life, for instance.

This science fiction film, which came out earlier this year and didn’t stick around in theaters for very long, opens with the crew of the International Space Station taking questions from a group of school children on Earth.  Everyone is really excited because a probe has been picked up evidence that there was once extraterrestrial life on Mars.  Starting from one cell, the scientists have managed to clone an alien organism.  (Or something like that.  Wisely, the movie doesn’t waste too much time on how all of this actually works.)  The school kids name the organism Calvin.

Isn’t that cute?

But here’s the thing.  Life is a science fiction/horror movie hybrid and, as a result, we already know that it was a mistake to bring that alien to life.  We know that almost everyone in that space station is going to die a terrible death.  It doesn’t matter that the scientists are played by people like Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, and Rebecca Ferguson  We know what is going to happen because we’ve all seen at least one movie in the Alien franchise.  We know what’s going to happen and, when things start to fall apart, the entire audience nods and says, “I told you so.”

That’s not to say that Life doesn’t work.   Life may be predictable but that’s actually a part of the film’s charm.  This is the type of film that you need to watch with a group of your loudest and snarkiest friends.  (I watched it with my sisters during the 4th of July weekend.  We all love Jake.  We all love Ryan.  Things got a bit out of hand.)  You don’t watch Life because you’re looking for an upbeat portrait of space exploration.  You watch Life so that you can yell, “No, don’t bring Calvin to life!  No, you idiot!  Don’t go into space!  Don’t lock yourself in the lab!  HAVEN’T ANY OF YOU SCIENTISTS EVER SEEN A HORROR MOVIE BEFORE!?”

(Indeed, one of the unexpected pleasures of Life was seeing that even brilliant people will do stupid things when confronted by the unknown.)

That said, Life occasionally caught me off guard.  It’s not that I was shocked to see the members of the cast being picked off one by one by Calvin.  Instead, I was shocked by the film’s relentlessly dark and bleak vision.  For a film called Life, it’s ultimately all about death.  Just because a character is being played by a big star, that doesn’t mean they won’t end up with Calvin entering their body and graphically devouring them from the inside out.  Calvin was a truly frightening creation and director Daniel Espinosa does a good job of capturing the claustrophobia and clutter of the space station.  Even if they didn’t exactly break any new ground, Espinosa and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick deserve a lot of credit for pursuing the film to its dark conclusion.  In space, they seem to suggest, there is no hope.

In conclusion, the main lesson of Life seems to be this: outer space is a terrible place and the worst thing that humanity can do is leave the planet.  Science is going to be the death of us.  Neil deGrasse Tyson has a lot to answer for.

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