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Film / Life (2017)

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Hugh Derry: These creatures wiped out Mars. Millions of years ago. If we let it get to earth...
Miranda North: We'll risk all human life.

Life is an American science fiction horror thriller film directed by Daniel Espinosa and written by Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Olga Dihovichnaya, Ariyon Bakare, Hiroyuki Sanada and Ryan Reynolds.

The six-member crew of the International Space Station is tasked with studying a sample from Mars that may be the first proof of extra-terrestrial life, which proves more intelligent (and dangerous) than ever expected.

Life contains examples of:

  • Anyone Can Die: Most of the ISS crew dies during the film including two Russian Soyuz pilots, and the deaths of Miranda, David and possibly all of humanity are ensured.
  • Artistic License – Biology:
    • The alien's cells are said to be simultaneously muscle cells, neurons and photoreceptive cells. The alien is also said to be extremely smart. Multicellular animals show complex behaviors and detailed perception because their bodies are made out of differentiated tissues and organs, which the alien doesn't have. It's just a mass of undifferentiated cells. As for real life animals that show this level of organization, see Trichoplax.
    • The amount of muscle strength Calvin can exert is a bigger issue given it doesn't seem to have an exo- or endo-skeleton, and real life organisms simply require something hard and rigid to serve as a counterpoint for the muscular contraction, in order to direct the movement and prevent the muscle from tearing the actual body in half. At best, Calvin may have a rigid cuticula (like worms, annelids and nematodes) but that shouldn't allow such muscle strength. The biggest issue in terms of realism is how quickly and efficiently the alien does these things, and how it's able to coordinate its movement to such a precise degree. The best real-life comparison may be slime molds which are single-celled organisms that can aggregate to "fruiting bodies" not unlike Calvin's initial aggregated form, and act in a coordinated, if limited, way.
    • If Calvin is able to assimilate, digest, and metabolize as quickly as shown on-camera, it's very likely to die due to Earth-bound microbes it had no defense against, The War of the Worlds-style.
      • This also raises a more earnest artistic license issue, as an organism with Calvin's metabolic abilities would be very unlikely to have evolved if its native habitat (Mars) is as generally nutrient-poor as it is.
      • It probably was a small microbe predator that had never encountered anything big enough for it to grow to the size it did, for all we know upon reaching earth it would burn out, it's metabolism might not be able to keep up, remember the film is in an extremely short time frame, for all we know the ending where all the ropey...stuff in the pod is actually Calvin's corpse and that David didn't know that.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: A major subplot is that the crew intentionally breaks quarantines, and that stage three quarantine details are kept from the bulk of the crew, and involve deliberately destroying the laboratory and pushing the facility into deep space to avoid risk of contaminating Earth. In reality, quarantine procedures are openly known and followed closely precisely to avoid risks of direct contact. Not only should all the crew know about stage three quarantine (as the crew being unaware of a quarantine procedure that ensures the deaths of all crew members would be highly illegal), but more stages would likely exist and be automated.
  • Artistic License – Ships: If the ISS can be considered a ship. The movie might offhandedly take place fifteen minutes in the future, but some common parts of the ISS are just wrong. It's scaled up from real life, and there's more fabric on the real thing. If you are just mildly used to the ISS, this can be quite jarring.
    • The "Soyuz" craft is pretty much in-name only, as it has the same oversized scaling issue as above, as well as barely resembling real-life Soyuz modules.
  • The Assimilator: The alien organism grows larger and smarter the more it feeds, and it undergoes dramatic size changes whenever it feeds on a rich source of biomass like a human being. The ending implies Earth is now in mortal danger of being assimilated.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 6: Calvin may very well consume and assimilate everything on Earth. Everything. People, animals, plants, oxygen, the oceans... hoo boy.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: At the end, Calvin successfully killed, directly or indirectly, all the crew of the ISS and makes its way to the Earth, where it can continue to swallow humans and growing up.
  • Big "NO!": Miranda lets out multiple at the end as her pod hurtles into deep space.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Subverted. Despite what we see in the trailers, Hugh is the first astronaut attacked by Calvin, but he survives and Calvin ends up killing two more astronauts before coming back to finish off Hugh.
  • Body Horror:
    • Hugh's right hand is crushed and mangled by Calvin before he's able to get free.
    • Calvin's preferred method of killing and eating — direct assimilation (as seen with the rat and Hugh's leg), emptying a human from the inside out (poor Rory...), and when large enough, doing the same by sticking its 'mouth' down their throat (implied with Sho and the Soyuz pilots, and seen with David. There's also the matter of the condition of the corpses after being eaten; shriveled and looking almost mummified.
  • Central Theme: Mistakes have consequences. The entire point of the movie is to show how emotional decision-making in times of crisis only leads to mistakes, which makes the situation worse.
  • Closed Circle: The space station becomes this. Calvin also cut off their communication with Earth.
  • Colony Drop: Implied, though not shown. This version of the ISS is considerably larger than the real one at the time of the film's release. The movie ends with the station in a rapidly decaying orbit that will result in atmospheric reentry within hours, and although much of it will burn up in the process, massive chunks will impact the surface across half the globe. Chances are that at least some of the pieces will hit populated regions.
  • Combat Tentacles: Arguably Calvin's main weapon is its absurdly strong tentacles. Even on a "newborn" the size of a man's palm they're powerful enough to completely shatter every bone in a human hand, and it only gets worse from there.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: A shot from behind of Rory's corpse, with his arms extended.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death:
    • Calvin's modus operandi when hunting is to directly latch onto and consume biological matter, becoming larger and more developed as it does so. When it attacks the lab rat, it envelopes it and rapidly digests it alive; for bigger targets like humans, it enters them through their mouths and consumes their organs from the inside-out.
    • Death by drowning in an EVA suit most definitely counts, too.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: Calvin is trapped in David's escape pod, which he plans to maneuver into deep space, while Miranda pilots her pod safely to Earth. Before this can happen, Miranda's pod is struck by debris. Miranda tries to reboot while Calvin manages to wrestle David away from the controls. The two ships part ways, one entering the atmosphere and the other tumbling out of control into space. The pod that lands on Earth is found by some Vietnamese fisherman, who look into the window and see webs of organic material entangling David. They ignorantly try to free David despite his protests, managing to open the hatch. A wide aerial shot shows more boats approaching, ignorant of the threat. Miranda lost control of her pod, and is doomed to a lonely death in space.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast: Calvin goes into a dormant state because of an accident in the lab. Hugh decides to shock him out of hibernation, which teaches Calvin that humans are a threat, causing the alien to begin to kill the crew.
  • Dead Star Walking: Ryan Reynolds is the first to bite the dust.
  • Decoy Protagonist: See previous entry Dead Star Walking. Rory Adams is set up as a blue collar working man, and gets the most screen time. He's also the first person to die by the hands of Calvin.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: At first, it seems like the movie is going to avert this by having a group of scientists deal with the monster. Nope, they make the same mistakes of any other haunted house visitor, and we don't get to meet any of them all that much.
  • Didn't See That Coming: The consequences of the doctor Hugh trying to re-animate Calvin. A little hostility was maybe expected. That Calvin was strong enough to break bones and smart enough to use tools, not so much.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: David and Miranda's plan to trap and dispose of Calvin is set to go off perfectly, until debris from the ISS results in their pods switching paths, ensuring not only humanity's demise on Earth, but Miranda's in deep space as well.
  • Downer Ending: All the ISS crew except for Miranda and David are killed by Calvin, along with the Soyuz pilots; Miranda is heading out into deep space to suffocate and die; and Calvin has made it to Earth and has a fresh source of prey...and if the condition of the pod's interior is any indication, might have reproduced.
  • Duct Tape for Everything: When the crew is sealing off their section of the ship in an attempt to vent the rest and suffocate Calvin, copious amounts of duct tape are involved.
  • Dwindling Party: When you have a group of astronauts stuck in space with a rapidly growing out of control organism, it's bound to happen.
  • Epic Fail: Literally everything the humans do in this movie fails in the most spectacular manner imaginable. This film would be more aptly named "Epic Fail: The Movie". Most notable is the fact that all they have to do to keep the alien life form contained is not fly it to Earth, yet they end up flying it to Earth by mistake! When you consider how many deliberate actions need to be taken to go into space and then back to Earth safely, the notion that anyone could do this by accident is truly mind boggling.
  • Face Full of Alien Wing-Wong: Implied in the last scenes of David inside the escape pod, which is also full of lumpy, ropy tendrils of some kind of not-yet-seen substance everywhere, implying that Calvin may have used David as a host to reproduce after attacking him.
  • Failed a Spot Check: When the Soyuz arrives, Sho heads for it, completely ignoring the body that has quite obviously been strung up on purpose in the airlock. His eagerness to escape dooms everyone.
  • Failsafe Failure: The quarantine pod is isolated from the rest of the station, but its halon fire suppression system runs off the same feed as the rest of the ship. This and a free-floating flamethrower allow Calvin to escape the pod, since the computer refuses to allow a simultaneous override of all the halon vents.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Sho's wife gave birth shortly before the shit hits the fan. The last thing he does before leaving his pod is speak to the polaroid taped inside. He's killed shortly after.
  • Fatal Flaw: David lets his compassion override his common sense. This drives him to constantly break containment to help his friends, making the situation worse.
  • Final Girl: Subverted with Miranda, who was supposed to be one, but a twist of fate actually sent her into deep space to die. Also arguably Gender Flipped with David being still alive at the end.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: The alien is called 'Calvin' after an elementary school picked out of 11,000 to name it.
  • From a Single Cell: Calvin grows from a single cell that was in a state of deep hibernation for presumably millions of years. Presumably, it could repeat this if it were reduced to a single cell, but we never get to see it take enough damage to find out. Notably, the film averts the lack of conservation of mass frequently seen with this trope; Calvin only grows larger when feeding on a large amount of biomass.
    • On the flip side, it does beg the question if Calvin might also be capable of reproducing like an infectious disease... if an entire organism can grow from just one of its cells, and it's pointedly established that Calvin has no true tissues, only aggregated identical single cells.
  • Glasgow Grin: Disturbingly enough, Calvin's mouth-like structure that it develops after consuming Hugh's leg resembles a sadistic grin, especially when it's about to attack someone.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Firewall Three. In the event of failure to contain Calvin in its pod or the lab, this involves Earth Control sending a Soyuz spacecraft to attempt to push the International Space Station (representative of nearly 20 years of international cooperation and quite possibly the single most expensive single item ever constructed at an estimated cost of over $150 billion, the in universe version stated to be $200 billion) and everyone still on board into deep space. As Calvin's arrival on Earth would very likely be an extinction-level event, this is entirely justified.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Ekaterina refuses assistance while drowning in toxic coolant on the grounds that it might allow Calvin to reenter the ship. It makes it back in anyway.
    • David tries to pull another one in the finale. It backfires even more horribly.
  • Invincible Villain: Absolutely nothing can kill Calvin, as already evidenced by the fact it survived dormant on Mars for hundreds of millions of years without oxygen, can survive extended periods in the depths of space with no ill effects and regenerate From a Single Cell, and it's predicted that it could survive re-entry through Earth's atmosphere. In the end, nothing the protagonists do can stop Calvin from reaching Earth's surface.
  • It Can Think: Due to being composed of multipurpose stem cells, Calvin becomes more intelligent as it assimilates more mass. However, the degree of intelligence it shows even before consuming any organic matter is frightening: it starts with tool use to break out of containment...
  • It Was There the Whole Time: The crew realizes too late that their plan to suffocate Calvin has failed when Hugh starts dying and they pull up his pant leg to find that Calvin has been feeding on it as he's paralyzed and can't feel it there.
  • "Jaws" First-Person Perspective: There are multiple shots from Calvin's point of view, including an extended one where it follows a trail of blood.
  • Kill It with Fire: Rory tries this with a handheld incinerator. It doesn't work. Even the Weaponized Exhaust of the thrusters fails to do the job. By this point, the crew is genuinely concerned that Calvin might be able to ride the ISS to Earth in an uncontrolled re-entry and survive.
  • Language Barrier: In the twist ending Calvin is revealed to have been in the escape pod that landed on earth. The Vietnamese fishermen who opened the pod didn't understand David's attempts to stop them. However considering the state David was in when he was found, the barrier was the only unavoidable factor.
  • Made of Iron: Calvin has an insanely durable physiology, able to withstand intense heat and the vacuum of space for extended periods while still needing oxygen, with even direct exposure to orbital re-entry not deemed likely to kill it. This is due to its entire body being made of multipurpose cells, rather than different types of cells for different purposes and tissues. The creature is more akin to a sea sponge or a tumour than a vertebrate (although it runs into Fridge Logic on how come it's not just as dumb as a tumour or sea sponge...).
    • On the other hand, for real-life examples of small animals that can survive up to ten days in space, see tardigrades.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": The moments following the reanimation of Calvin by Hugh using a mild electric shock.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Calvin runs on this. It can do basically anything with it's body as long as it's A. Scary or B. Allows it to survive and kill another crew member. This is best seen at the end where it suddenly turns into a fungus and coats David's entire body with it's biomass to do...something.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Thanks to his comm being damaged while running from Calvin, Sho is left out of the loop when David and Miranda concoct a plan to kill Calvin. He breaches the module where they contained Calvin in an attempt to suffocate it, since the Soyuz had docked there in an attempt to push the ISS into space (which he was also ignorant of). Sho manually opens the airlock, allowing Calvin to attack the pilots and throw it off course, terminally damaging the entire station and screwing up the containment plan.
  • No Ending: The films stops cold after Calvin and David arrive on Earth in the escape pod. The implication that Calvin could somehow destroy all life on Earth is doing a lot of the heavy lifting as it's ultimately unclear what is even happening to it at the end of the film. The monster itself disappears somewhere in the pod and we're just left to guess where it went.
  • No Hugging, No Kissing: Although there is a bit of Ship Tease between Miranda and David, the most intimate they get is David briefly stroking a desperate Miranda's cheek for comfort near the end of the movie before they set out for the Final Battle.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: Hugh points out that Calvin is an animal that is just trying to survive, and that to do so it must kill and consume the astronauts as they are both a food source and a danger to it. Subverted, however, when Calvin silently mocks Sho and David with a deliberately slow, sadistic pace before going for the kill (and in Sho's case, showing him that it knows how to open a sleeping pod). Evidently, the increased intelligence also includes emotional intelligence, and thus sadism.
  • Once-Green Mars: The alien organism is possibly responsible for wiping life out on Mars.
  • The Oner: A lovely one in the beginning as the camera goes through the ISS on full alert to take care of the incoming probe — we go down the corridor to Rory suiting up, then back out the way we came in and up to the command center, where a convenient porthole lets us see Rory outside and deploying the robo-arm as the probe comes hurtling towards the ISS... and successfully engages.
  • One-Winged Angel: Once Calvin has David subdued in the escape pod it grins at him and exudes a multitude of new appendages. By the time the time the pod splashes down on Earth, the formerly small, graceful creature has become a horrific tentacular mass that fills the entire pod.
  • Orifice Invasion: If its prey is too large to be enveloped fully, Calvin enters them through any convenient orifice (usually the mouth it seems) to devour them from the inside out.
  • Poor Communication Kills:
    • The fact that Miranda doesn't explain the measures of Firewall Three beforehand. Sho believed it to be a rescue attempt, and his damaged comm meant they couldn't correct him.
    • At the very end David tries to warn the fishermen not to open his pod when it crash lands back on Earth, but evidently, they don't speak English.
  • Previews Pulse: Can be heard in the trailer here.
  • Properly Paranoid: The space agency and Miranda North are shown to be extremely prepared to deal with any possible situation including having a Soyuz on standby to push the ISS into outer space to prevent Calvin from reaching Earth.
  • Quarantine with Extreme Prejudice: The space station has three stages of quarantine. Firewall One is the quarantine of the lab. Firewall Two is the station itself. Firewall Three is the distance between the station and Earth — and when the first two are breached, the protocol is to send a ship to push the station off orbit and into deep space, people on board be damned. Backfires because only one member of the crew knew this, so when the Soyuz connects to start pushing, Sho (who was already in a panic and probably wouldn't have accepted becoming a casualty even if he did know) rushes to where it is, allowing Calvin to get inside and kill the crew, making things a hell of a lot worse
  • The Radio Dies First: Calvin shorts out the radio to Earth first.
  • Russian Guy Suffers Most:
    • Ekaterina is killed by drowning and freezing in toxic coolant water after Calvin sabotages her space suit.
    • Calvin is shown tearing into the Soyuz pilots after Sho unwittingly allows Calvin inside.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: As part of Firewall Three, a Soyuz craft docks with the ISS with the ostensible purpose of pushing it (and Calvin) out into "deep space." But that's not how orbital mechanics work. Spacecraft designed to escape the solar system (like the Voyager probes) are small and have multiple stages because it takes a lot of rocket power to build up that kind of speed. The most a Soyuz would be able to do is push the ISS into a higher orbit (to be fair, this would put Calvin safely out of Earth's reach for years or decades, by which time it presumably would have frozen and/or starved and become inert). Even if the ISS were to escape Earth's gravity, that puts it in a high solar orbit where it would run the risk of hitting Earth years down the road.
  • Senseless Sacrifice:
    • Ekaterina allows herself to drown and drifts off into space so that Calvin cannot get back onto the station, but the thing just leaps off her to get back.
    • At the end, David intends to get shot off into deep space and take Calvin with him, but then the pod crashes on Earth instead.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Despite all the effort and sacrifice the ISS crew puts into stopping Calvin, they all die horrible deaths without even slowing the creature down. The film ends with four crew members plus two reinforcing Red Shirts dead, the remaining two assured to die fairly soon as well, and Earth's entire biosphere circling the drain now that Calvin has made planetfall safe and sound.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Rory is the life of the party at the ISS, constantly wisecracking and entertaining everyone. He's the first of the crew to be killed by Calvin, who enters his body through the mouth and eats him from the inside.
  • Sole Survivor: Subverted. Miranda is the only member of the ISS crew who isn't killed by Calvin (and, if the ending is any indication, possibly the only member of the human race who is going to avoid such a fate) but her escape pod is still headed into deep space with no chance of rescue, so she's going to suffocate to death regardless.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Immediately after the film ends with Calvin making it to Earth and being freed by the fishermen who open David's pod, Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" plays over the credits.
  • Starfish Aliens: The alien sample is similar to a starfish, both in body structure and anatomy, being comprised of muscle and nerves only. That said, the tissues that make these up are similar to stem cells and are capable of multiple functions, meaning that as it gets bigger, it gets smarter.
  • Title Drop: With a title as mundane as "Life", multiple title drops were bound to happen.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The film basically runs on a long string of questionable decisions, but worst of all are the Vietnamese fishermen in the final scenes. A space capsule drops out of the sky with a bloodied, frantic man inside who's completely webbed up in some strange gooey substance and screaming at the men in obvious desperation. Do they turn around on the spot and run/swim/drive like hell? Of course not, they proceed to open the hatch and thus probably doom every living thing on Earth. As commendable as helpfulness may be, common sense can't get violated much harder than this.
  • Tracking Device: The crew wears bio-monitors which show their position in the station and monitor lifesigns. They have multiple redundant units attached to their bodies at the joints, allowing the system to track them as a stick figure. Calvin ends up swallowing one while feeding on Hugh, enabling David and Miranda to track it.
  • Tragic Mistake: Every single member of the crew makes one. It leads to the possible extinction of the human race. In order:
    • Hugh becomes too attached to Calvin and accidentally trips releases the oxygen in the tank, rendering it inert. While he does revive it, it becomes hostile. It should be noted that Calvin was perfectly docile before this point.
    • Rory breaks containment to confront Calvin directly. He dies and Calvin escapes because of his choice of weapon.
    • Kat, despite being the captain of the mission, goes outside to repair the communications array. When she dies, the crew is left without a leader and no clear chain of command.
    • Miranda hides the Godzilla Threshold to ensure Calvin doesn't enter Earth, that a Soyuz will push the ISS into deep space, from the rest of the crew. While David learns of it later, it's too late, because...
    • Cho, in his desperation to return home, makes his way to the Soyuz, which is pushing them away. He forces it open, causing the Soyuz to smash up the Space Station.
    • Finally, David makes a lot of assumptions with a risky plan to trap himself with Calvin in deep space while Miranda returns to Earth. However, he fails to calculate for debris, and both get knocked off course, with David himself going to Earth.
    • All in all, the main characters effectively seal their and humanity's fate by ignoring protocol by making dangerous, if understandable, decisions. But the sum of these mistakes leads to a possible Extinction Event.
  • Ultimate Life Form: While we don't know the full extent of the antagonist organism, it is clear that Calvin is a very flexible, adaptive extremophile, with considerable inteligence, strength and durability. It can survive in the cosmic void for an unspecified time, endure extremely high temperatures and regenerate itself from just a few cells. Oh, and it possess extreme longevility (maybe to the point of being The Ageless). Considering the above, it may be very close to what can be described as "perfectly adapted organism".
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: When they realize Calvin ate one of the tracking devices, David says "We can track him." Cut to a P.O.V. Cam of Calvin, who is following a trail of blood right into a trap David and Miranda have set.
  • Wham Shot: The pod that lands to Earth is found by Vietnamese fishermen. They look inside and it is revealed that this is the pod containing David and Calvin. Miranda's is the one heading toward deep space.


Video Example(s):


Calvin arrives on Earth

The attempt to send Calvin into space goes horribly wrong and David's pod lands in Asia while Miranda's pod is sent into the blackness of space, and as Asian fisherman don't understand David's screaming protests, they open the pod, possibly dooming Earth.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (12 votes)

Example of:

Main / DownerEnding

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