Monday, March 27, 2017
LIFE: “SURVIVAL MEANS DESTRUCTION”
Add LIFE to the selective list of science fiction’s most harrowing exercises in horror. The mantra that “survival means destruction” is amply demonstrated here. It’s kill or be killed as the crew members of a space ship engages in an apocalyptic struggle against an invading life form.
The crew of the International Space Station has been assigned the task of retrieving and bringing back to earth a capsule from the Martian surface containing a dirt sample. On board, a multi-celled organism emerges and quickly grows into a complex life form. Dubbed “Calvin,” it’s a diaphanous, tenticular, flower-like creature that relentlessly seeks out and envelopes its quarry. Impervious to flame, able to survive for prolonged periods without oxygen, it clambers around inside and outside the space ship, darting and slithering its way toward any opening or orifice, human and otherwise, affording its hideous entry. It’s a pure biological imperative, without emotional or psychological qualification or moderation. In short, it’s an eating machine
Every attempt to foil or contain it fails in a series of masterfully staged and horrifically escalating encounters. Only two crew members are left facing a desperate decision. If the monster is to be prevented from reaching earth, they must sacrifice themselves and propel their ship back into deep space. The resulting suspense and moments of purely visceral horror sustain a terrific, unflagging momentum. It’s as if the movie itself becomes an inexorable life form of its own, relentlessly and craftily attacking the viewers’ vulnerabilities.
An important element in the film’s Escher-like disorienting effects is the deployment throughout of a gravity-free ship’s interior. Crew members shoot in and out of hatchways, right side up, upside down, sideways and every way. Floors, ceilings, and walls afford no stable spatial sense. It’s the first film since 2001 that is so determined to confuse us in this way. Do not be surprised, therefore, if you emerge from the theater walking sideways along the corridors.
Yes, critics are pointing out the numerous references to other classic SF films, including ALIENS, GRAVITY, INVADERS FROM MARS, etc. There are even “Watch the Skies” and “They’re coming!” warnings at the end, issued by a desperate ship’s commander. So be it. LIFE is a science fiction and therefor subject inevitability to certain generic conventions. Deal with it.
Those warnings to “Watch the Skies!” may be too late. In a breathlessly nihilistic ending, the ship’s capsule containing the creature splashes down in the ocean; and several ships are seen approaching it from the point of view of a high-angle shot. It’s as if we are viewing through a microscope the encounter, which is nothing less than the fertilization of an egg... and the birth of the End of the world.