Spoiler Warning: I discuss some of the plot beats and scenes that I liked in this review. If you’re not into that, watch the movie first before reading!
I’ll cut the cheese and tell you right off the bat that I’m no Alien aficionado. I’ve never seen any of the main set of movies and only fairly recently found myself engaging with the franchise through Prometheus and that slightly rubbish Alien vs Predator Xbox 360 game.
Contrary to popular critical opinion, I actually thought that Prometheus was ok, but I can see why it was panned due to its well… distinct lack of Aliens and focus on demystifying the Xenomorphs, which takes away some of the scare factor.
I still think Fassbender put an excellent shift in and the visuals were stunning. I’m a bit of a wuss too, so, despite the fact we were only treated to the trilobite, the Deacon and the rogue space jockeys its fair to say I was spooked by the highly conceptual film.
This is mainly what drew me to Alien Covenant. I wanted a film that would entertain and scare me but not in an overly egregious way like a typical horror movie. A film that would combine clever storytelling, cinematography and sound design with a terror-inducing atmosphere.
Ridley Scott is also a director that I trust to make an engaging movie. With movies like the inimitable Blade Runner and Hannibal in his back catalogue, I feel like he always has something to say with his cinema, and more often than not, manages to create a world you can find yourself drawn to with ease.
The first 45 minutes of Alien Covenant are pretty standard run of the mill sci-fi movie. The plot runs from beat to beat, involving a number of lukewarm characters captaining a ship set to colonise a planet in the far reaches of space.
It’s an exposition festival for the most part, but it gets the job done, and gets you up to speed on the main ‘mission’ that this movie is based around.
The plot runs from beat to beat, involving a number of lukewarm characters captaining a ship set to colonise a planet in the far reaches of space.
The captain is killed by a galactic anomaly, there’s an odd, uncanny android that they depend on, and oh, what’s that? A signal coming from a seemingly habitable planet much closer than the one they were planning to go to? How convenient…
Taking over as the new captain, I thought that Billy Crudup’s Oram was pretty weak sauce with his delivery throughout the entire film.
His character is just… dumb? He appears mostly troubled but reckless in his means to save his crew, and that leads to him making a number of predictable horror movie decisions that work to give Alien Covenant the veneer of a slasher flick more than a nuanced Ridley Scott movie.
Despite this, the range of emotions portrayed in the performance of both Katherine Waterston as Daniels and Fassbender as Walter/David easily pull the tarpaulin over most of the weaker characters and really steal the show.
Of course, when the crew land on the supposedly desolate planet, all is not as it seems. Human vegetation exists, and there’s a familiar looking ship with an echoed signal that looks a hell of a lot like Noomi Rapace.
Yeah, you guessed it. Alien Covenant acts as a sequel to Prometheus. They’re back on the same planet 10 years later, and this is when the movie pulls the training wheels off and starts to hit its stride.
Foolish actions from the crew invoke xeno-spores far more virile than anything in Prometheus that infect the crew and cause them to fall ill and produce neomorphs. These disgusting creatures are white, child-like versions of the popular black xenomorph we know and love. Their bones crack as they scramble through an accelerated growth program and become a serious threat to the crew.
One of the greatest achievements of Alien Covenant is the visceral gore. The effects used in this movie will absolutely blow you away.
My hand was over my mouth for most of this movie in a recoiled grimace at the horrifying, spectacular visual effects.
From the convulsing crew members to the fight scenes which usually involve some kind of unfortunate severing or chest-bursting action, my hand was over my mouth for most of this movie in a recoiled grimace at the horrifying, spectacular visual effects.
Further, Scott manages to really nail some of the action sequences by diversifying them and making them believable. My favourite involved a crew member slipping on blood and firing their shotgun in the air allowing time for the baby-sized alien to make its attack. The camera angles and cinematography for most of these scenes really added to the tension.
Whilst I didn’t care much for each individual character, the action they were involved in was so well shot that I was ready to root for them.
However, in a bold move for the franchise, the real threat in this movie is not the creature but David, the lost android from Prometheus who they discover hiding out on the seemingly desolate planet. Fassbender plays against himself in a ‘duality of man’ head versus heart mad scientist situation and absolutely knocks it out of the park as both David and Walter.
He holes himself up in a gothic victorian cave, quoting Byron and Shelley and finding his passions in amateur Zoology. Seeing as I was expecting this movie to just be a monster vs man flick with no moral commentary, this came as a shock but became a very welcome surprise that really added scope to the movie. Without it, it would have been rather boring.
Fassbender plays against himself in a ‘duality of man’ head versus heart situation and absolutely knocks it out of the park as both David and Walter.
With their ride home on fire, David offers safety, which is certainly not what it seems. Some of the movie’s finest scenes come when David is showing how the aliens trust him, a Neomorph fully stretched on its hind legs, its skin pale as a newborn and its freshly-birthed mouth bloody.
Of course, the crew don’t agree, leading to an interesting conflict that culminates in a number of dead men and women, a number of unplanned alien pregnancies and a last-minute rescue mission. Like I said at the start, the beats of the narrative are pretty standard as a sci-fi movie goes but the characters and visuals make up for it.
The audio is also wonderful. The score absolutely ramps up the nail-biting tension in the most atmospheric scenes, from deep space to thick foliage. It pushes past the point of no return in the prowling scenes, initiating the shock at the moment you certainly weren’t expecting. This makes for scares that aren’t cheap, but still masterfully freaky.
Sometimes Scott lets us know the enemy and it still scares you, which I thought was an achievement to be proud of.
The last 45 minutes of this movie are a thrill ride of emotions as we dart from action sequence to tense corridor inducing horrifying, claustrophobic terror. The best part is the fact that there’s a malevolent monster to scare you but also the muddy intentions of the dysfunctional android to consider.
Sometimes you don’t know where to look or what to scream at, and that’s excellent. The ending, which I won’t spoil, has one of the most wonderfully executed twists I’ve seen in a while and will leave you with a harrowing feeling of terror latent in your stomach for hours after you leave the theatre. Whilst it is sequel-bait, it’s so well done that you won’t actually mind. I can recall my jaw being agape for most of the last hour, but this sayonara made me feel so gross that I still can’t stop thinking about it and I watched it 3 days ago.
Overall, Alien Covenant doesn’t really require much prior knowledge of the franchise and is a solid scary sci-fi film with great visuals and score. The acting is hit and miss at times but the main characters absolutely carry it, and it stands on its own spindly hind legs as a worthwhile watch for anyone looking for a spooky, atmospheric couple of hours in a beautifully designed world.
Our Editor-In-Chief Jordan Oloman watched Alien: Covenant at Tyneside Cinema on the night of release. He spent 2 hours cowering in fear and hiding behind his self-serve wine glass