Gruesome and deeply disturbing, this is a film I should qualify with the caveat that I entered the cinema feeling low about life. I didn't realize quite how low; that day in Edinburgh included sunny weather and a stillness in the cool air that I love. A few days earlier, however, I'd received rejections for things I'd applied for, including a temporary job I both badly needed and thought I would be perfect for. These are the moments in life when a feel-good film can lift you a little, a reflection I wish I'd acted on when choosing what to watch at the Cameo cinema.
Anyway, the film I turned to: the synopsis of this sci-fi horror warns you in advance it's going to be like Ridley Scott's Alien, and in many ways it is, though with the added dynamic that the crew are in a space station in orbit around Earth. This latter point becomes increasingly important when the crew realize they have let something terrible on board, so if the space station somehow crashes to Earth, and the alien life form survives as it's likely to, then humankind could face a significant threat to its existence.
All happy stuff then. It begins brightly enough, in fact, a crew of believable, likeable characters in the multi-national space station attempting to catch the last pod of an automated mission gathering samples of soil from Mars. They celebrate when Ryan Reynolds's charismatic crew member manages to snare this final pod on a space-walk. They take the samples into the lab, where their biologist, played by Aryion Bakare, begins to analyse the samples under the microscope; he discovers a single-cell lifeform, dormant, mixed in the red sand. They have the first evidence of life beyond Earth, and they celebrate.
Perhaps you can imagine the rest, as they attempt to bring the organism to life. What's worth noting is the strength of the cast, as they begin to realize what they have re-animated. I know I've been hard on Ryan Reynolds in the past, but he performs his part well, the crew's light-hearted joker, contrasted to a degree to Jake Gyllenhall's quieter, more enigmatic, medical officer. Bakare, playing the biologist, arguably has the most demanding arc, bringing to life a thing that first tortures him, and later . . . Well, I think you can guess what it does to him and most of the crew, in terms of end-result.
Speaking of which, though, the two female characters, played by Rebecca Ferguson and Olga Dihovichnaya, are less engaging. I imagine if you were reading the script and had their names removed, you'd have difficulty telling who was who, except perhaps in relation to their functions. More importantly neither dies in the kind of gruesome way that the others do. Is this because the sight of a female character being seized upon and orally 'violated', as is the case of the male crew, is too much for a mainstream sci-fi? Regardless, their respective fates, while horrific in their own way, doesn't involve direct contact with the alien, and perhaps in avoiding this, their character arcs are more distant than those male characters who suffer 'up close'.
Perhaps, before I give away more of the film, I should begin to finish this review. Like I said, I found this film disturbing, not least with its 'twist' at the end, but also with the fate of the characters; I watched this film and felt a real sense of 'nemesis', of something hostile and increasingly malevolent growing, and thriving, and being one step ahead of these characters you care about. In fact later that night, as I tried to sleep, I thought of Von Trier's Melancholia, about an approaching death that you can't get away from, and the mood that builds around it.This is not a film, in short, that anyone should watch if they're going through a dark moment in their life. It is, in so many ways, a film of its genre, a sci-fi horror, but it's also something else, something worse, like the alien itself. Be careful of letting this film on board.