Opening this weekend is Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror thriller “Alien: Covenant” from 20th Century Fox. This ones takes place ten years after “Prometheus” and deftly answers many of the questions that left “Alien” fans somewhat disenchanted.
The command crew aboard a colonization ship is suddenly awakened from hyper sleep after their ship carrying 3,000 passengers and 10,000 fertilized embryos suffers a malfunction. In the midst of making repairs a discovery is made. A planet that may be the perfect place to settle is just a mere two weeks away versus their planned destination being another four years journey.
There’s a saying… when it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Which would you pick?
In perfect “Alien” form, “Covenant” revisits a similar plot structure that is evident throughout the franchise. This one keeps those same beats; the initial hope of finding a new planet, that first attack and death, a turn coat, the imminent death of everyone who doesn’t escape back to the ship, and of course the traditional ending where you think it’s over, but it’s not. Those familiar beats made the first one work, and even though familiar they still make “Covenant” a very worthy sequel.
What sets this one apart is that it begins with a flash back. It’s Peter Weyland (Guy Pierce reprising his role) at the “birth” of his creation, David (Michael Fassbender). It becomes apparent that David’s idea of perfection and creation will exceed Weyland’s idea of godhood. This is later realized in brilliant fashion as David does some pretty twisted experiments in search of his own godhood.
Another twist to this story is the dual role that Fassbender plays as not only the aforementioned “David” but also a less emotional “Walter” who is accompanying the colonization ship in a similar role as David in “Prometheus.” Fassbender a true talent, is able to instill a new persona in “Walter” and realize his “David” as two completely different synthetic humans but still similar. I never once felt like his performance was in any way overly contrived.
In an early scene where both David and Walter appear on the screen together, the special effects are so well executed you can’t tell that there’s digital compositing going on. The scene takes place in a wheat field during an attack and “Walter” protects a crew member from a Xenomorph and David shows up just when it looks like everyone is about to die, saving the day.
Another mesmerizing scene is when David teaches Walter how to play a flute, and then sort of seduces him. The reality of Fassbender seducing himself on camera is quite the visual treat and added a bit of light heartedness to the horror film.
As is a common theme of most horror films, the characters invariably start making bad decisions that cascade into catastrophe. The Xenomorphs are relentless and hungry, and they come in several varieties including one that looks vaguely human.
In true “Alien” fashion the only one who seems to be making good decisions and has a bit of luck is Daniels (Katherine Waterstone), a lady who has the resolve to run the right way and when invariably cornered has the wherewithal to trap the Xenomorph inside a flying tractor-like vehicle and then eject that out of the space craft (yes, just like Ripley without the cool “get away from her you bitch!” line.)
“Alien: Covenant” is the culmination of Ridley Scott’s movie making career. You can see bits and pieces of characters and styles from many of the films he’s famous for, even “Blade Runner.” This film works on many levels as a horror film first and foremost. Earlier this year Scott made an appearance at SXSW and said his goal was “to scare the shit out of you” with this film. On that front, he succeeds as well as the existential experience he creates with his story that speaks to God, creation, genocide, and even rebirth. Every frame of this picture can be seen as a symbol. As for what those symbols mean, begs for repeated viewings to take it all in.
5 out of 5