The notion of space travel is inherently dangerous and terrifying, as noted by Karl Urban’s Leonard McCoy in Star Trek (2009). People crammed together in a mechanical device, dependent on fallible technology to protect them from a variety of grisly deaths. Throw something else into the midst, like a xenomorph (Alien), a lunatic (Sunshine), baboons (Ad Astra), a murderer (Jason X), a computer with a superiority complex (2001: A Space Odyssey) or the manifestation of a hell dimension (Event Horizon), and you have extra peril to get excited about. Pick your horror movie in space, and it’s pretty likely the creators of Anti-Life (also called Breach) are familiar with it.
Anti-Life begins in 2252, with Earth under evacuation for New Earth. The last ship to leave is the Hercules, commanded by Admiral Adams-King (Thomas Jane). Most of the passengers are placed in suspended animation while a small crew of custodians including security, medical and maintenance keep things ticking over. Despite advances in technology like a quantum drive (which is red to differentiate it from warp drive, very important), people still need to scrub toilets, and that’s the lot of our protagonist Noah (Cody Kearsley). Hero called Noah, aboard a ship that could be described as a sort of ark. Why does that sound familiar?
Noah has more to worry about than finding the right sort of bleach, although that is a concern that becomes a plot point. His partner Hayley (Kassandra Clementi) is aboard too but has a right to be, but he is a stowaway and therefore liable to be tossed out an airlock if discovered. Not to worry though, because a vicious shape shifting creature gives everyone bigger problems. As events escalate and body parts fly with increasing abandon, our ragtag bunch of heroes must use all their ingenuity and gut instinct, not to mention human compassion, to survive, not to mention bicker over who has more of a right to live, give orders, etc.
If Anti-Life sounds less than inspiring, that is because it is uninspired. As mentioned, you have likely seen most of the narrative and thematic tropes used by writers Edward Drake and Corey Large elsewhere. This means that the film offers a game of bingo. The Earth is ruined by humanity, like Blade Runner and Avatar. Our principal characters are on a spacecraft but emphatically ordinary, and they have to fight a monster, like Alien. When regular space janitors can’t handle it, call in the soldiers, who are just as out of their depth, like Aliens. People become infected and cannot be trusted, like The Thing. A big badly animated beastie proves more laughable than threatening, like The Mummy Returns. As crew members are infected, they become an agile ravenous horde like the remake of Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later…, Resident Evil or [insert zombie movie here]. Noah crawls around in air vents, again like Aliens but also similar to Die Hard, which may be no coincidence since Bruce Willis plays Clay, Noah’s immediate superior. It is revealed (to no great effect) that Clay has a military history, rather like Willis’ character Korben Dallas in The Fifth Element. There’s something of an Armageddon moment as well, and the final act recalls both 10 Cloverfield Lane and Ghosts of Mars.
Being derivative is not necessarily a problem, so long as the film has some measure of style or wit. Recent sci-fi action films with familiar tropes that are still engaging and imaginative include Edge of Tomorrow, Tenet and the extremely Alien-like Life. In each of these cases, the directors, cinematographers and editors invigorate familiar devices with visual invention, often drawing the viewer into the deadly scenarios of the characters. Sadly, director John Suits is no Christopher Nolan or Doug Liman, and the scenes aboard the Hercules are presented flatly and with noticeable repetition, pointing perhaps to the film’s limited budget. The design of the ship interiors is at least decent, David Dean Ebert and Melissa Woods creating an effective sense of claustrophobia and lived-in-ness. Their good work, however, is undermined by weird lighting choices, as director of photography Will Stone flips from yellow to washed out blue, often within the same space and for little discernible dramatic reason. As for the characters, while they are clichéd some are least well drawn. The performances are fine, although the names you know – Willis and Jane – have done far better work. Perhaps most egregious of all, the action sequences are pedestrian and the film’s overall pacing is sluggish, creating little sense of dynamism or tension. There is some fun to be had in playing spot the reference/homage/rip-off, but beyond that Anti-Life is turgid and at times painfully derivative drivel.
If you were keeping score, there were 24 references. Thank you for playing!