Wearing its debts to both Alien and Gravity clearly on its space suit sleeve, Life is a straight-up Friday night bit of sci-fi with pleasing twists, a good cast and some taut action.
The crew of the International Space Station have to intercept a vessel coming from Mars and catch it like a baseball, with a giant space arm.
From inside, they retrieve some dirt samples and being to analyse, only to find moving, living particles, one of which they prod and poke and bring to life.
Back on earth, the discovery brings celebration and a cute kid in Times Square wins a competition to name the alien Calvin.
However, back in the space lab, Calvin is growing fast, into a tentacled star fish type thing that soon grips the hand of the space doctor (British actor Ariyon Bakare) who grew her. Ryan Reynolds floats in to help.
Soon, with deliberate echoes of the late John Hurt and the famous chestburster scene in Ridley Scott’s movie. Only a few of the international crew remain. Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson (she’s always good, but a bit like Ruth Wilson, you never quite know it’s her you’re watching) are among them, but Calvin is a slippery sucker who can slide through tiny holes and vents.
It becomes a chase movie around the craft, with lots of hatch closing, gravity-less clambering and last-second sealing of space helmets just in time. There’s a Gravity-style space walk and the now obligatory obliteration of space craft, all of which works well enough.
Swedish director Daniel Espinosa does an efficient job of filling us in on the geography and generally we know where we are and what’s happening, until the final section when it all feels a bit rushed and random and people are somehow surviving despite not have suits on and you’re thinking but, hold on, how come…?
However, he pulls it all around at the finale with a neat twist and all is back on.
I rather liked Life. It’s silly and knows its sci-fi bounds, not like the pompous Arrival which tried to make nice with the aliens. No way, says Life – they’re bad, dangerous and want to eat us, so let’s leave them alone and not go to Mars. Life on earth’s difficult and beautiful enough, so what makes us think it’s any different somewhere else?