Neither a face-hugging failure or a chest-bursting success, Life is a kinetically paced but ultimately parasitic film that leeches off a host of better movies.
Let’s face it: when you make a claustrophobic sci-fi horror about a generously-tentacled squid monster with a predilection for chomping on astronauts, Alien comparisons are going to be made.
But though the film seems to revel in its lack of originality, it does tell a surprisingly human story about the discovery of alien life.
Life follows the inhabitants of an international space station who recover a Martian soil sample containing a perfectly-preserved single-celled organism.
Overjoyed by their discovery, the crew sets about analysing the life form, which they affectionately name Calvin.
Quickly revealing itself to be an intelligent and remorseless parasite bent on killing everyone on board, Calvin’s ironically benign name becomes increasingly preposterous as the body count mounts.
Ryan Reynolds plays Rory, the film’s nominal lead, who breaches quarantine to save the life of British scientist Hugh (Ariyon Bakare) after Calvin escapes from his tank.
This triggers much of the subsequent carnage, leaving medical officer David (Jake Gyllenhaal) and quarantine officer Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson) to pick up the pieces.
Reynolds, who dials down his usual fast-talking charm, is still the closest thing in the film to light relief.
Gyllenhaal and Ferguson could easily have opted to chew up the scenery as their fellow crew members began to be eviscerated.
Instead, both actors turn in curiously muted performances, facing the escalating violence with a sense of somber resilience that roots the film in an unexpected realism.
While it may be more than the film’s script deserves, there are moments when both actors really make you empathise with the acute hopelessness of their situation.
A scene in which David disavows his lifelong fascination with space, which had previously provided him with a sense of belonging and connection, makes Calvin’s rampage seem almost heartbreaking.
In terms of its style, however, Life is decidedly unoriginal. Director Daniel Espinosa pilfers the sci-fi canon, from Gravity to Alien, even borrowing plot points from Barry Levinson’s sci-fi stinker The Sphere.
However, leaving aside the substantial debt it owes to the Alien franchise, and despite becoming unremittingly grim and increasingly sadistic as the story unfolds, there’s another sense in which Life is actually a lot of fun.
In the end, it’s a gleefully gory nuts-and-bolts thriller which absolutely catapults through its substantial runtime, leaving a trail of death in its wake.