A sci/fi fantasy horror film?  Sure, why not? There are many genteel moviegoers who won't want to avail themselves of the gruesomeness, much less work so hard at suspension of disbelief.  But for the more adventurous moviegoer, this one is like a good short story:  likeable characters, an urgent plot line, and a twist ending.

            Sometime in the not-so-distant future, an international team of astronauts has collected some soil samples from Mars, and is headed back to Earth with their precious cargo.  On board the spaceship, there's just enough curious scientist in one of the astronauts, Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), to want to play around with one of the samples, and to his great astonishment, discovers a single-cell organism.  Everyone else is greatly excited, as well, at the prospect of life on another planet in our own solar system.  But what kind of life?

            Dr. Derry continues to experiment, first with changing the atmosphere inside the cell's airspace, then applying a small amount of electrical current---anything to get the organism to show other signs of life, like movement, and growth, and even purposeful activity.

            Ah, you have to be careful what you wish for.  It turns out that Dr. Derry's pet organism is actually not as cute and cuddly as everyone assumes.  Dr. Derry continues to insist that it's just acting biologically, for its own preservation, as all life forms do.  But he makes the error in judgment of assuming benign intent on the part of the alien organism.  Big mistake.

            Now we've taken a left turn from a relatively calm astronauts-in-a-space-station movie to an almost-formulaic horror film, where the “creature” (which looks sort of like an octopus with a raptor's head) continues to find inventive ways to attack the astronauts, who predictably act like humans---that is, they argue over protocol, debate about effective procedure, indulge in impulsive behavior, become emotional when stressed, and make tragic mistakes.

            What nobody counted on is that the ugly “Martian” could evolve rapidly, move quickly, and engage in intelligent thought processes.  Oh, and don't forget being unepectedly deadly.

            Will our resourceful astronauts find a way to contain the menace, without further endangering the crew, or worse still, put at risk any rescue mission that might be sent their way?  And how horrible would it be to consider that this rampant, imminent threat might find its way back to Earth?  How catastrophic could that be?

            Well, of course it's all fanciful and fantastical, but the story is helped greatly by the compact space, the tight narrative, the quality acting, and the convincing imaging.  No, it's not for everybody.  But if you're willing to jettison your skepticism, and let the narrative envelop you, you just might find yourself both compelled and repulsed, even simultaneously.


Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Do you believe there is life on other planets?  Within our own solar system?

2)                  What's the closest-knit team you've ever been on, either vocationally or avocationally?

3)                  What do you think is the greatest danger to the safety of our planet?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association