SXSW finished its film festival with the star-studded space thriller, “Life.” The film begins with a team of astronauts, lead by Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson, planning to return to earth after collecting samples from Mars that may contain the first signs of extraterrestrial life. The mission goes awry, however, once the microorganism begins mutating, growing tentacles and craving human blood. Conclusively, this film is not attempting to move past the sci-fi genre tropes that movies such as “Alien” have landmarked. It does, however, bring a terrifying realism unfounded by previous alien horror films. This can be accredited to the stunning visual effects that picks up where CGI-heavy films like “Gravity” left off.
“The whole idea of this movie was realism, and that’s what differentiates it from other movies in the genre,” director Daniel Espinosa said in the Q and A after the screening.
Reflectively, “Life” is the result of taking John Carpenter’s cult classic horror film, “The Thing,” and relocating it in space. Espinosa even mentions that “The Thing” had a major influence on the film.
“Science fiction is about giving quotations to each other. It’s like a response to all films,” Espinosa said.
He shared that his inspiration came after hearing about the Mars Curiosity landing and the idea of what would happen if the astronauts found life in the planet’s dirt. This factual groundwork elevated the film to more realistic heights, adding a sense of urgency, panic and most of all, a feeling of premonition towards an unknown future.
The alien itself is the most unnerving aspect of the film. The life form is introduced as an innocent-looking microorganism, which they name Calvin, yet this quickly changes as it begins to sprout tentacles, exhibit paranormal strength and craves human blood. The visible demeanor of Calvin offers a new prototype of alien unseen in sci-fi before; one that doesn’t have countless rows of sharp teeth or a domineering growl. Instead, Calvin is silent but deadly, ominously accumulating mass and overpowering the crew with its innate intelligence.
The plot of “Life” is unfortunately quite conventional. The narrative beats definitely thrill but traditionally pause for emotional grievances and cheesy dialogue, often attempting to provide an existential perspective on the concept of life but failing from its discernible superficiality. The ending offers a twist that could be predicted far in advance, yet satisfyingly takes the plot where it inevitably needs to go. Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick mention that the ending is purposefully crafted to prepare for a possible sequel opportunity. Here’s to hoping the proceeding films maintain the riveting necessities of the genre while venturing beyond conventional into unexplored territory.