Those guys in the International Space Station knew they couldn’t just get away with doing groundbreaking scientific work and basking in all those stunning, soul-stirring views of Earth. Sooner or later, something’s going down. Life is a tight little sci-fi/horror flick that manages to effectively mash up Alien and Gravity. It neither reaches for nor attains escape velocity, but turns out to be a Grade-A B-Movie experience.
Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson and Jake Gyllenhaal lead a crew of international scientists aboard the ISS, with Gyllenhall’s Dr. Jordan reaching the limits of human endurance in space in his record-breaking stint (he’s been up there well over a year). Problem is, he doesn’t want to go back to Earth with all those nasty people. The rest of the crew, including a Japanese engineer (Hiroyuki Sanada) and a Russian commander (Olga Dihovichnaya), have found a nice rhythm in their work and interactions with their fellow crew.
Director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House, Child 44) does a nice job of setting up the structure of life on the station, with everyone performing their duties and even Skyping with millions of viewers on Terra Firma; they have reason to celebrate, because samples of Martian microbes have reached them and it is the first evidence of any alien life form. A grade school in New York City won the chance to name the new li’l critter and chose the name “Calvin.” Awww, cute.
Resident biologist Dr. Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakara) fosters the microbian culture as it grows, alarmingly, into a sentient slug of a pet, becoming a half-houseplant, half-octopus translucent thing. He discovers that “Calvin” can experience all senses through every molecule in its body, rendering him a super-sensory being. And soon enough, Calvin tires of his petri dish and hungers for what lays beyond all those protective gloves and helmets.
What the story lacks in originality, it makes up for in deft pacing and the use of the claustrophobic confines of the ISS. If you found yourself breathing just a little heavier watching Sandra Bullock’s rapidly diminishing supply of oxygen, then be prepared to double down on that here. As Calvin makes his way through the international smorgasbord, it becomes clear his real intention is to get to the food supply on Earth.
Life is not for the squeamish (it nearly bests Alien in that regard). The alien design is mostly a marvel of possibility, but at times I couldn’t help comparing Calvin to Audrey from “Little Shop of Horrors,” and half expected him to develop speech capabilities voiced by Samuel L Jackson. Jon Ekstrand’s score got a little heavy-handed and manipulative at times. No matter, as the scares are effective enough.