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Spectra Film Review: LIFE

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If we had a nickel for all the times audiences were sat down in order to witness the “we have discovered a new alien organism” plot, or had to hear the words “this is the first sign of life on other planets,” we would have enough money to make the movie “LIFE” three times over.

So, yes, we get it, Daniel Espinosa’s sci-fi homage to the gritty days of Ridley Scott’s “Alien” is not orginal, but that doesn’t mean Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s screenplay doesn’t come up with a few tricks to help elevate the movie beyond the typical “hostile alien organisms” plot device, and with Scott himself being the grandfather of the genre – and his latest, “Alien: Covenant” only weeks away – the ripple effect might be felt for what this movie accomplishes with moviegoers.

The film starts out as any space movie must, with a beaming shot of Earth with the glimmering prospect of hope. The movie tells the story of a six-member crew on the international space station – (Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Olga Dihovichnaya, and Ariyon Bakare)  – and they all come from different backgrounds. For example, David (Gyllenhaal) has been in space for the better half of two years and Miranda’s (Ferguson) main job is to assess worse case scenarios. “I Imagine the worst possible situation, and I prepare for it.”

Yet, nothing could prepare them for what was coming.

On the heels of a routine pitstop on their way back home, the crew discovers microscopic evidence of single-cell life forms on Mars and they’ve got the history-making specimens with them. This is where Espinosa gets the movie off to a murky start, by never solidifying where we are, with an intro that is moderately confusing. I had to take a minute to myself and understand where they found these specimens, because it rushes through that exposition. What we do know is that each of the crew members are either doctors, or have some fancy aeronautical physics degree that make them the best at what they do.

For the first third of “Life” nothing really happens, and the script never really makes us care about the crew members (aside from Sanda’s character whose wife just had a baby) – but they more than make up for it when one of our scientists decides to stimulate one of their organism with electricity and zaps the creature to life. That’s when the movie jolts to life as well. With the perfect screech of the score that brings back terrifying memories of watching “Alien” for the first time.

Now, there is a seventh member on board and his name is “Calvin.” And he is one adaptable creature. Almost smarter than anybody in the room, and can withstand any curveball thrown his way. This. Thing. Does. Not. Die.

What ensues is more or less a creature feature that alludes to more of a “The Thing” vibe as opposed to a space station thriller. But all the suspense is good fun, and the best part about “Life” is when these smart characters make stupid decisions. Because it helps reminds us that we are all humans, and wouldn’t know how to handle these circumstances.

As for Calvin, well, he has some elaborate schemes of picking off members one by one, with imagery that will never leave your opticals upon viewing it. Espinosa was smart to withdraw some of these deaths in the trailer,  and, while the ending might not come as a surprise to anyone, if you’re invested enough – like I was – than you might not see it coming.

Of course, “Life” is no “Alien” but nobody was asking it to be, and for the time being, it’s a well acted, serviceable filler, that can keep us tied over until Grandpa Scott brings home the gold at the end of May. B

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Spectra Film Review: LIFE