(2017, Daniel Espinosa)
[3 out of 5 stars]
We don't belong in space. Our bodies aren't built for it and the cosmos is too vast - both physically and intellectually - for our brains to comprehend it. The disorientated camera in LIFE, suggest this in the opening scene where a complicated operation is underway for the retrieval of samples from Mars. The camera floats through the space station, bearing scrambled. Up and down is indiscernible. Upside down heads pop down from the top of the frame.
While this is not new in depictions of space on film, it got me wondering about humanity’s relationship with the cosmos - whether or not we belong outside our tiny blue dot in the galaxy - and how human beings are so deeply tethered to our Earthliness. On Earth we have a down and an up and we understand that instinctively. In space, that is taken away. Our life sources of air and water are not naturally present out there. Our brains can’t even begin to imagine the enormity of space. The message of the movie is clear: when it comes to space, we are way over our heads.
When an international crew in the space station brings to life from its dormancy a microscopic organism, it signals a breakthrough in science. The tiny creature, named by school kids on Earth as 'Calvin', is described as being all muscle, all eyes, and all brain. Even as a tiny, seemingly harmless creature it already has a biological advantage over humans. The alarm bells should be ringing but the excitement of the breakthrough leads to an inevitable fuck-up.
Calvin is brilliantly designed. Creature design is crucial for a horror movie set in space. There's nothing more scary than a life form that has familiar physical characteristics (Calvin looks like a hybrid of a jellyfish and a starfish) with unknown capabilities. As Calvin matures and rapidly grows in size from a cute, almost sublime cellular structure to a biological nightmare, the tension inside the space station builds. The way this thing kills is body horror at its best. The sick part of me was actually rooting for Calvin. There's something revoltingly fascinating about watching it figure out ways it can savagely kill the scientists.
But it's also terrifying - considering that NASA just discovered a galaxy system that is capable of sustaining life - that six of our brightest and fittest, operating inside a cutting edge, well-equipped and highly organised space station is collectively no match for one organism. That to me is more terrifying. It emphasises how much of a disadvantage we could have over life forms out there.
Humans have dominated the planet because of our unmatched ability to manipulate the materials around us and use them as tools for our own benefit and survival. Think of the most famous jump cut (from 2001: A Space Odyssey) in cinema where a bone, used as a weapon, is thrown in the air and cuts to a satellite in space. While humans are incredibly resourceful, it takes a very, very long time. Calvin moves fast, thinks fast and adapts even faster. We are no match.