The newest addition to the franchise, Alien: Covenant (2017), builds on the magnificent bodily horrors of its underrated predecessor, Prometheus (2012), and more ardently utilizes the momentous dread visualized in the original films. Though the violent, gory terrors are as uniform as ever, ever-important in the movie is the developing of the saga’s backstory and the elaboration of the nightmarish creations of H.R. Giger, whose illustrations helped create the Alien films in the first place. Thematically, the movie dives into familiar territory. But the scares remain fresh, and Scott’s spine-chilling vision stays as consumingly frightening as it was when it was first introduced in 1979.
Covenant, taking place shortly after the events witnessed in Prometheus, circles around the trials and tribulations faced by the crew of the eponymous colonization ship. Bound for Origae-6, a remote planet the two thousand colonists and thousand embryos wish to populate, the settling of the celestial body is a last resort; The Earth and its human population are dying.
The trip itself is set to take a number of years, all aboard peacefully unconscious in hibernation pods that nourish them until arrival. But a sudden neutrino burst from deep space forces the vessel’s head personnel to awaken. The craft, severely damaged, is suddenly unstable, on the verge of imploding both literally and figuratively. Several colonists are killed, including the ship’s captain. Rash decisions must be made.
Dreading the idea of slipping away into the grips of a medically induced knockout once again, the entire crew, with the exception of the franchise’s new Ripley, Dany Branson (Katherine Waterston), decides it might be beneficial to instead make their way toward a nearby, uncharted planet from which they received a radio signal. Branson is firm in her belief that such is too good to be true — Origae-6 was heavily researched, proven to be a good fit for repopulation. The place they’re suddenly chasing after could be a trap.
But Branson is outvoted, and in no time are all aboard leaping downward toward the question mark of a planet. Immediately, things don’t feel right. The sky is unnervingly grey, the air nippy and dank. No organisms roam. Overripe wheat grows on the landscape, signifying a previous mission that didn’t stick.
Moments later and Covenant begins to go through the motions of the horrors seen in previous installments — a handful of unsuspecting crew members inadvertently become infected by some strange virus and give "birth" to parasitic beasts who goes on to terrorize our protagonists until there are only one or two survivors left to fend them off.
We’ve seen it all before. But such is excusable: the film is artistically magnificent, the performances sound (particularly those of Waterston, coming into her own after announcing herself as an instant star in Inherent Vice , and Fassbender, as an android[s] not to be trusted), and the suspense is still killer, combining the physicality of an action movie with special effects to rival the gorier outings of David Cronenberg. The finale is especially unnerving, an exemplification of why the series has such impressive staying power.
You won’t necessarily be clamoring to see more — unless Scott’s in the mood to subvert everything he’s already done, I'm not so sure how much longer we can idly watch the same formula be stirred — but Covenant is nevertheless a thrilling, wondrously designed horror blockbuster. B+
2 Hrs., 2 Mins.
June 1, 2017
rops to Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise for sticking around about as long as the Star Wars (1977- ) saga and still managing to deliver the goods as effectively as it did nearly 40 years ago. I suppose I can’t deny that the series is more interested in universe expansion than reinvention — only the ensembles getting murdered by savage beasties seem to change — but the original promotional poster’s chilling reminder that “in space, no one can hear you scream” retains its malevolence.