Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Life

Tense thriller features an intelligent alien and not the most intelligent humans.  

Science can be a beautiful, wondrous thing. A scientific breakthrough can lead to a treasure trove of innovation and discovery that propels mankind forward. Science can also be tragically devastating and destructive, unleashing horror that destroys mankind. The crew of the International Space Station (ISS) in “Life” experiences both extremes.

The movie wastes no time in getting right to it, as the station’s chief (and only, for some reason) research scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) discovers a microscopic life form in a sample of the dirt on Mars. After a heroic save of the sample by hot shot pilot Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), the sample is brought on board and is examined by Derry.

While Derry experiments with this amazing new discovery, we are introduced to the rest of the crew: Captain Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), medical doctor Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), biologist David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), and crew member Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada), whose role seems to be that of a family man with a newborn baby, so we care about him a little bit. The only other crew member who we get to know a bit more than what we see is Jordan, who is a misanthrope. Disgusted by the way people treat each other on Earth, he retreated to the ISS and holds the record for staying there the longest. He has the muscle atrophy to show for it.

Things go from great and wonderful to deadly and horrifying as the organism, named Calvin by a group of elementary school students, grows up and its true nature comes to the forefront. What its true nature? Well, given that “Life” is a claustrophobic thriller set in space, this isn’t one of those “betterment of mankind” movies like “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” This one is closer to “Alien.”

As a creature, I really enjoyed Calvin, and given that the movie centers on the terror that it inflicts on the crew, that’s an important thing. Seeing Calvin prosper and grow is like watching evolution on fast forward. It starts off looking like a translucent flower petal with tiny black veins running through it, then grows into something fierce, hideous, and deadly. To Calvin, the crew is nothing more than prey—food to assist in speeding up its evolution from microscopic organism to life-devouring monster.

And boy, does it ever devour. “Life” has some pretty graphic scenes that are not for the squeamish. Calvin is more than just an alien animal that eats everything in sight though. It’s also highly intelligent and has an amazing resistance to the cold vacuum of space. The lengths that the crew goes to in order to try to rid themselves of Calvin provide the movie with its most suspenseful moments. There is a great cat and mouse game that’s played once Calvin is on the loose, and the crew and Calvin take turns on which one is the cat and which one is the mouse.

Those going into “Life” expecting straight sci-fi may be disappointed. The movie has sci-fi elements, but those are mostly in the beginning. Once Calvin gets big enough and the terror starts it doesn’t let up, and the majority of the movie is a suspense thriller. Plus it’s a well-executed one at that. Rent it.

More New Releases: “Baker’s Man,” about an ex-football player turned philanthropist who gives grants to bakeries in need—and finds love in the process; and “Altitude,” in which a female FBI agent is offered millions to help a thief escape from a hijacked airplane, starring Denise Richards, Dolph Lundgren, Greer Grammer, and Jonathan Lipnicki. Yup – the kid from “Jerry Maguire” is all grown up!

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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