Great Scott, it is finally time to wake up from cryo-sleep and face our biggest fears once more! As #RidleyScott returns to the #Alien franchise after 2012's Prometheus, many are questioning whether the grandfather of the Xenomorph can still Reebok stomp the competition when it comes to #scifi #horror with his latest venture, #AlienCovenant.
For gore hounds, there is good news! His third Alien film contains a good soaking of acid blood as another crew of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation prepare to become egg incubators for Xenomorphs, Photomorphs, and Neomorphs. But apart from an increased budget for SFX, does it still contain the winning formula of man, monster, and machine that made 1979's Alien such a nail-biter? You can already read what I thought of the film here, but given that the whole premise of the series is that in space no one can hear you scream, is that still the case when you land on the surface of a mysterious, desolate planet?
Warning: Reading the following may cause your chest to burst with spoilers!
Horror On The Homeworld
Well firstly, there is plenty of screaming to be heard in the film's 123-minute runtime. We open immediately to the visceral horror of our ship caught in a solar burst. Overloading the circuits, it is an early curtain call for the random inclusion of James Franco, whose Captain Branson is burned alive in his cryo-tube. If you are scared of unrecognizable lumps of human flesh, look away when they are bagging up the body.
From there on out, it is pretty much plain sailing until the crew makes the fatal decision to land on the Engineer's homeworld. The silence of the planet is emphasized with atmospheric long shots and more grey tones than an E.L. James novel. Note at this point, most of Covenant's tension comes from an overarching sense of foreboding rather than a quick build up. Also, fans must accept the grim reality of the classic Alien series that barely any (if any) of the group will make it out of the story alive.
Given how little the Alien franchise has cared about its characters, it amps up the fact that literally anyone could die at any time. You even worry that Katherine Waterston's Daniels could be up for the chop, especially with Scott revealing that he had once planned to kill off the iconic Ripley in the climax of Alien.
'Back' In Action
Isolated on the planet's surface and with a change in music and tempo, the crew soon fall sick to the black spores and you can expect your heart rate start to increase. Easily the most horror-y/terrifying scene of the entire piece is the already revealed backburster scene. As Benjamin Rigby's cocksure Ledward falls to infection, a sensible Farris decides to seal off the lab. This traps Carmen Ejogo's Karine in the room with a soon to be deceased Ledward and the creature within. At the same time as this, we see the rest of the scout team dealing with Hallet, who is pinned down in the wheat field and preparing to burst out his own little alien hybrid.
The two scenes running side by side are cinematic gold and a much-needed change of pace, and the backburster is Scott's own little update of John Hurt's iconic scene from the original. While it may not be up there in terms of shock value (we all know what is coming), it is arguably more tense than the original. Seeing the white-skinned Neomorph attack a helpless Karine is a scene drenched in red corn syrup, and it is only frustrating that it takes place slightly off screen. That is the biggest gripe of Covenant, even the best of the horror is always just missed by the camera.
From here on out, you've got your standard horror tropes of a dwindling group and reckless people walking off on their own. The next big death is more of a mass death as we flash back to David dropping his alien pathogen on the Engineers. Scott beautifully captures the spores devouring the entire species and some graphic close-up shots of people being eaten alive. Talking of flashbacks, the use of John Denver's "Country Road" is a haunting melody to wave off Noomi Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw. The only problem is that the melody doesn't become a recurring theme of the movie, as the trailer suggested.
Speaking of Shaw, as guessed from the teasers, she gets a suitably small role in Covenant, and even that is largely as a corpse. Annoyingly, the horror is muted by the fate of Shaw being resigned to a few far-off shots of a dummy corpse and some award-worthy sketches in David's scrapbook of horrors. All it needed was one quick flashback of Shaw birthing one of the facehugger eggs and the film would've ticked another important horror box. Having your leading lady die between films is just a big no no.
Down in David's caves, the story of alien life is interrupted by a few tense kills, including the discovery of Rosenthal's decapitated head bobbing in the water. After waiting 20 years since Alien: Resurrection, we finally see the return of facehugger pods (absent from Prometheus) and Billy Crudup's Oram gets a little visit from the chestburster. In the cavernous chamber room, shrouded in mist, it was a wonderful way to introduce the origins of the Xenomorph species, but was altogether a little light on the horror.
Robots In Disguise
Finally, we come to the pièce de résistance: Michael Fassbender, who is up there with evil AI-like Terminator and Hal 9000. We sadly spent too long playing agony aunt to David, meaning that final chase sequence aboard Covenant could've been so much longer. We had the computer system MU-TH-UR updating us on where the murderous organism was, but the sequence pales in comparison to Tom Skerritt's Dallas being stalked through the vents in 1979.
Covenant not only had its own homages, as a faithful reboot of sorts to Scott's original, it also has a nod to Hitchcock's Psycho. Capitalizing on the horror of a good shower scene, survivors Ricks and Upworth became alien fodder in the showers. Daniels discovering their gutted corpses lying naked on the floor as upbeat music plays in the background was another terrifying example of the film's peaks and troughs.
Again on the negatives, the titular alien is too easily dispatched when pushed out an airlock by a terraforming machine and some beautifully shot slow-mo effects. However, one villain down, it brings us back to the true terror of the film. Not so much scary as creepy, Fassbender's returning performance as David is unhinged to the point of brilliance. The film rounding off with David's line, "Don't let the bed bugs bite," with such perfect intonation is enough to give anyone nightmares. And seeing Daniels locked in her cryotube as David goes to continue his "experiments" on the 2,000 surviving souls will definitely leave a cold chill running down your spine as the credits roll.
The Birth Of The Horror
Covenant is stocked full of philosophical questions, more Easter Eggs than alien eggs, and just enough horror to satisfy us blood-thirsty horror hounds. Given an impressive budget, Fox has clearly spent it on some lackluster CGI, meaning that ironically, the animatronic Xenomorphs from Scott's original actually stand up better than the new generation of hybrids. In particular, the newly introduced Neomorph and its albino skin looks to have been modeled off the Slenderman of a poor Silent Hill game.
Just as Prometheus strayed away from the horror roots of the series and took a more biblical approach, the entire middle act of Covenant is miles away from what you would expect from a horror film. That isn't to say there isn't the odd scene of graphic violence, but the jump scares simply aren't there. As a faithful continuation of alien lore, Covenant is a great big face hug for fans of what Scott set out to do, while in terms of your classic sci-fi horror, the squeamish won't be able to sit through this one without wanting to blast themselves out the airlock.
Check out the backburster scene from Covenant and don't forget our poll below!