aka, LIFEFORM. 1996

Director: Mark H. Baker

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

A space probe, or Viking Mars lander, was lost on Mars, but some while later inexplicably returned to Earth. It was apparently repaired by a lifeform on the Red Planet, one that has stowed away on board.

InvaderAfter some mysterious preliminaries in an isolated research facility, the tale eventually boils down to a couple scientists & a tiny group of incompetent soldiers & one jackass of a military officer in the sealed-up facility trying to catch or kill the alien.

The bulk of the film consists of a typical, familiar, & tedious series of scenes involving stalking through rooms & hallways, shooting at the alien, the alien hiding, the alien leaping out & killing its persecutors, more stalking, more hiding, more shooting.

There are a few gore FX, only one or two of which are good of kind (watch for a soldier folded in half). Eventually the soldiers successfully kill the alien, but it laid an egg that hatched & grew up instantly for more stalking, hiding, shooting.

That's the bad news. Surprisingly, however, the film isn't entirely bad. True, there are some spectacularly stupid scenes. A soldier walking about waving an instantly-invented alien-detecting wand was just awfully foolish. The alien "infection" that turned out to be a bad case of appendicitis was a ridiculous plot twist. The ability to do an appendectomy without medical equipment, sanitary conditions, or blood for transfusion, was wacky padding.

Still, considering how cheap & cheezy the film is, & despite the campily stereotyped dialogue, it's in the main an entertaining monster flick. And it adds some visionary moments that are just great to see.

One of the primary "ideas" of the film, that the alien has 100% race memory so that whatever it learns before it's killed, it's next generation will know too, is lit upon by one of the scientists on the basis of nothing at all. But going along with the irratioonal movie shorthand, the idea is an intriging one, suggesting a kind of immortality with the self-progenerating alien possessing all the memories & experiences of its endless lineage.

There are moments of bizarre beauty. The first time the alien opens a "visor" in its facial exoskeleton for a closer look at the one & only non-hostile human it encounters, the eyes peering out (despite the resemblance to E.T. the Extraterrestrial) convey curiosity & for lack of a better word, a soul.

It's not pure hostility or evil as in so many invasion films. It is an intelligent lifeform that wants to perpetuate its kind, & that perpetuation looks very likely to be one that could easily out-compete & displace all humanity if it gets out into the world. But that's a normal environmental process of species displacing species, not evil assaulting the innocent or the good.

Indeed, with that soulful glance through the exoskeleton visor, the creature seems likely to be less inherently appalling than violent humanity, but also much, much better at defending itself.

The terrible dilemma is that whether or not peaceful communication were possible with this creature, it would nevertheless in the normal course of its own evolved survival capacity end the human race.

So even if the one scientist that wants to preserve it were right, that it is not inately hostile if not attacked; & if the military dunderheads were wrong; it would remain that any accomodation would be like tiny native treefrogs trying to come to an accomodation with non-native marine toads.

When it's dead & we get the pressing query "How do we know there wasn't more than one egg?" we pretty much know that "success" is temporary & the stalking & hiding thing is going to pick up steam not long after this breather.

The second creature's immediate agenda is to escape the facility before being killed by human soldiers, & it has its predecessor's memories to build on. In one encounter it tries again to peer out of its exoskeleton to get eye-contact with a human, trying to understand that which attacks it, possibly hoping to make some kind of "contact" that could stop this battle.

But the frightened soldier opens fire, is immediately killed for his assault, & then the alien takes the dying soldier's face in its War of the Worlds type spidery hands & delicately looks into his face with what may be only curiosity but seems possibly to be compassion.

The finale has the creature entirely shed of the exoskeleton for a most wonderful "reveal." It's absolutely stunningly designed as a creature, extremely alien but with an aesthetic quality, it's strange multi-eyed face & its body language conveying a kind of awe the first time it sees the moon.

It is just such aesthetic moments, however few, that permit this stalk-hide-kill monster-from-space flick to transcend its chief properties, with a final pay-off well worth all patience. If all low budget creature features with no-star-casts delivered this much this effectively, none of us would ever again feel hoodwinked by ads & trailors & misleading pictures on posters or dvd boxes, as we so frequently are.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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