The “Alien” movies are some of my favorite creature features to watch. The originalAlien has been so influential as a unique blend of sci-fi and horror that genre outings look to its structure as a template to this very day. That said, I think two of the most underrated ones from the modern day are Life from 2017, and Underwater from the recently-wrapped year 2020. Let’s talk about ’em. SPOILERS, AHOY!
Directed by Daniel Espinosa, Life is a 2017 creature feature about a crew aboard the ISS that must fend off the recently discovered Martian lifeform — dubbed Calvin — as it quickly evolves and overpowers them.
This one actually generated a bit of buzz, thanks to the idea of putting Deadpool and Donnie Darko themselves, Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal in one movie. However, post-release, I don’t seem to see this one being talked about much, which surprises me as I thought this was a pretty good film. Obviously, the premise is derived off of Alien but I felt like the filmmakers peppered it with their own touch to make the film feel distinct.
For instance, there’s the acting caliber of Reynolds and Gyllenhaal, along with Rebecca Ferguson and the rest of the cast. They give this film their all, which help boost the film from seeming like just a basic cash-in.
Another aspect of the film that I liked is the creature, Calvin. I liked it’s design and how it evolves throughout the film to leech off of our characters’ life forces. At the end of the day, Calvin is simply a provoked animal adapting to its new environment aboard the ISS.
Speaking of the ISS, another strength of the film is the choice to limit the setting to our current technology. The crew are left floating in zero gravity in a claustrophobic environment where Calvin could come out at any moment.
The film ends in what I think is another nod to Alien in that in ends on a bleak note with Calvin reaching earth and our characters left in fates worse than death, not unlike the original ending to Alien where Ripley gets her head bitten off.
Directed by William Eubank, Underwater is a 2020 creature feature about survivors in a research and drilling facility at the bottom of the ocean, and their rush to find a means of escape to the surface after the facility is struck by mysterious forces.
Disney, Fox — whoever made the call to release the film so late definitely didn’t do right by this film, giving it a dead release in January. As is usually known, January horror releases don’t tend to fair well critically and in turn, commercially as well. Quite frankly, it sucks because Underwater was a good film with a lot of passionate people behind it.
Between the films Love, The Signal, and this one, director William Eubank is turning out to be a stalwart sci-fi director who knows how to please a crowd.
He and his team manage to bring out just how dark and mysterious the ocean can be, which is one of my biggest phobias. Like with Life, this film is fronted by a very game cast of known and familiar faces, lead by the underrated Kristen Stewart. Once again, the acting is on point and is one of the film’s strongest suits, next to the atmosphere and set design.
Speaking of set design, the filmmakers also did great by crafting real sets that realistically gets damaged, blown up, flooded, what have you, which brings out the best possible performance they can get from the actors.
Another aspect that I liked is the lore and, yes, the creature design. I’m pretty sure by now we know that there’s a Lovecraftian persuasion to the film’s lore, which I thought was clever. I liked that this was not explicitly revealed, so as to let the film, ahem, float on its own merits. However, not only do the creatures look proper creepy, they’re also something you’d legitimately believe to dwell in the dark corners of the ocean.
Dustin is a horror fan and sometimes short story writer who hails from the Philippines. He likes a lot of the horror genre but usually goes for slashers and arthouse/slowburn stuff. Currently, he’s trying to make up for lost time in the horror literature world by digesting as many horror books as he can.