Any time you see the Saban logo before a film, you know you’re in for a treat. The company behind the beloved Power Rangers franchise have a reputation for fun little films, and Anti-Life is no exception: an Alien-inflected sci-fi B-movie that embraces its cheesiness.
The film starts on a dystopian Earth, over two centuries in the future – a world that has finally reached its limit and is no longer habitable. As with the Fallout game series, it opens with people scampering to escape ships, desperate to get off a ruined world, before honing in on one specific ship, led by Admiral Adams (a brief cameo from Thomas Jane). Here is where we delve more deeply into the human side of this pseudo-apocalypse, as Noah (Riverdale‘s Cody Kearsley) sneaks onto the ship under the guise of a janitor, to accompany his pregnant girlfriend – and the Admiral’s daughter – Hayley (Kassandra Clementi).
Yet everything spins on its head as the passengers go into cryosleep and the crew, led by Bruce Willis’ Clay, get to work on maintaining the ship for its long-haul journey to New Earth. At this point, director John Suits takes a turn towards the Alien franchise, as a secret and lingering horror lies beneath the ship’s promise of a fresh start for humanity.
Yet unlike Alien, there isn’t some hidden creature sneaking through vents and tearing apart passengers: instead, the threat is akin to a parasite, which turns its victims into zombie-like monsters. It’s a novel take on sci-fi horror that hasn’t really been done before – zombies in outer space is something unique – and though Anti-Life follows the structure of its predecessors like Alien and last year’s Underwater, there’s enough novelty here to keep it a fresh experience.
Perhaps the most outstanding element of Anti-Life is how it embraces its B-movie roots to create a bubbly, switch-your-brain-off sci-fi experience. Bruce Willis is probably the best performer here, even if it’s nothing astounding, but he handles the haggard, heavy-drinking leader role very well, even if clear reshoots mean you can certainly tell when he’s being filmed alone, away from the rest of the cast. Unlike last year’s Underwater, which had a higher budget but a weaker script, the characters are surprisingly likeable here, with clear motivations and genuine stakes – especially Noah, who it’s hard not to root for. That said, some characters, especially Thomas Jane’s Adams, don’t get enough development, meaning when there are sweeping character moments, they don’t quite pay off.
But that’s a minor issue in a film that embraces its schlockiness, which manages to paper over its shortcomings to make for a fun viewing experience. DoP Will Stone does an admirable job at filming the action, with some really good use of lighting to convey the claustrophobia that occurs before we know what the threat is. Similarly impressive is the violence, which harnesses convincing practical effects instead of opting for CGI effects that aren’t quite as successful elsewhere in the film. The film’s clearly a love letter to sci-fi classics of the past – the first half is tribute to Alien, and the second half to Aliens – and while it doesn’t have the budget to match up to these, it certainly makes the most of what it has.
Anti-Life doesn’t push the sci-fi genre in new directions, but is an easy, watchable B-movie that embraces its campiness and presents a story that isn’t new, but is still proven to work. Much has been made of Bruce Willis’ recent project choices, and while it’s not the most high-profile release on his repertoire, Anti-Life is certainly a step in the right direction.
Signature Entertainment presents Anti-Life on Digital Platforms 12th February and DVD 15th February