In the reincarnated horror film Life, the real dread comes from the feeling you’ve seen it all before. The screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick immediately plops you into its derivative scenario without any narrative foreplay: An international space station orbiting Earth intercepts a space probe carrying a Martian soil sample containing a dormant life-form of superior intelligence and indestructible physiology, one that’s foolishly rejuvenated by human intervention. The predatory organism exponentially evolves through a Darwinian instinct for survival, killing off the hapless members of the crew one by one with a relentless objective in mind. One little, two little, three little astronauts … Any of this sound the least bit familiar? It’s got everything but a mewing cat named Jonesy. The translucent, squid-like thing slithering amok in Life is called “Calvin” after our 30th president and, like Coolidge, it has no real personality to speak of. Initially looking like a cute anchovy, it develops into a rubbery mass with tentacles that grip like a boa constrictor and a tiny echinoderm orifice hungry for any available source of nutrition. This abstract parasitic creature is hardly the stuff of nightmares. Didn’t The Blob teach us anything about the need for terror to have a face?
The expendable cast in the film barely registers as each character expires in various preordained sequence. (Spoiler alert: Reynolds’ cocky pilot is a supporting character.) Noble self-sacrifice, rather than complete stupidity, is the leading cause of death. The lack of emotional investment in these people undercuts some of the suspense of whether they live or die, though the film valiantly urges us to care about them using the occasional backstory, such as the birth of the Japanese systems engineer’s new child back home. As the slightly oddball senior medical officer holding the record for most consecutive days in space, Gyllenhaal’s Dr. Jordan makes for an ineffectual action hero, while his counterpart, Ferguson’s Dr. North, at least evokes a modicum of sadness once the crew’s fate becomes inevitably clear. But by the end, however, the movie’s predictable wind-down and ho-hum twist at the end make this Life hardly worth living. In space, no one can hear you yawn.
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