This SF horror is set on the ultimate closed society, an international space station crewed by six astronauts. It starts with a "show you round the spaceship" moment where you're introduced to the crew who are patiently, and probably for the millionth time, demonstrating to their Earth audience how they manage to eat, exercise, and use the bathroom in deep space. However, this zero gravity routine existence is shattered when they find a very primitive life form in outer space and instantly take it to the lab to see what they can learn from it.
We're softened up by a cutesy moment when the news of the discovery, now grown to a large blob, goes global; in between celebrations, primary school kids go on worldwide TV when their school gets to name the new discovery "Calvin". With global enthusiasm beckoning the astronauts home, all seems set for the triumphant return to Earth with the new life form, as proud as new parents of their Petrie-dish pet.
Like Darwin returning with exciting new discoveries from unknown places, everything seems sitting pretty for the tickertape parades waiting back home. But this latter day Beagle is in some serious (interplanetary) trouble, as the new life form starts growing from tiny amazing scientific discovery to cute ET style mascot.
Calvin gets smarter as it gets larger, and soon as large as a cat, it leaps out of its container and starts to float around the lab, resisting all attempts to contain it. The crew’s well meaning boffin Hugh Derry (British actor Ariyon Bakare) steps in to save the day and stick the new discovery safely back in its box.
But Calvin is having none of this from his Dr Frankenstein and continues to growing nightmarishly faster and more determined. It attacks him and eats the ship’s lab rat alive as its transformation is complete to alien threat determined to wipe the crew out.
The crew become cut off from mission control when Calvin, now simply known grimly as "It", breaks out of the lab and runs amok, chews through the communication wires. They are on their own in deep space, trapped with a hostile life force on board with no escape.
Ryan Reynolds downplays his comedy origins in his role as Rory Adams, keeping it to the occasional one liner, and Jake Gyllenhaal as David Jordan turns in a similarly subdued performance. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) stands in for a 2017 Ripley, determined the alien isn't going to kill her crew. There are also nods to Kubrick’s 2001, where she also becomes doomed astronaut Frank Poole, trapped outside her space ship by the evil being, and there’s a memorably disturbing scene where her spacesuit fills with liquid, threating to drown her.
"Life" is flawed, as the entire crew is just slightly too noble and self-sacrificing, working together as a loyal team to defeat the common enemy. At no point does anyone run screaming to lock themselves in the nearest escape pod to save their own hide and leave the others to their fate. Another cliché is having crew member Sho Murakami (played by Hiroyuki Sanada) commit the cardinal horror sin of having a picture of his wife and newborn back home, which is a sure sign his life expectancy is getting shorter by the minute.
Also, scientifically speaking, any life form would be unlikely to survive in unprotected deep space, let alone get smart enough in a month or so to kill a group of highly-trained scientists with technology on their side.
There’s an excellent downbeat finale, where instead of a traditional Hollywood happy ending where the crew successfully capture Calvin/It harmlessly in a foolproof container with a cheerful quip, director Daniel Espinosa things get a lot worse very quickly - just as they did in 1979’s original Alien. Suspenseful and disturbing, it’s a gripping watch.
"Houston, we have a problem...and it's eaten most of us alive."