Alien: Covenant… Increasingly familiar

Recommendation: NO

Summary: Colonists find their ship hit by solar winds, leaving their captain toasted and the rest of the crew unwilling to reenter their cryosleep pods lest they befall the same fate. The acting captain, a man who believes his religion makes him untrustworthy in the eyes of the crew a mere 10 years after a devoutly religious person was part of the crew of the most expensive space expedition to that point, gives into popular demand to investigate a much closer, possibly hospitable planet rather than travelling their years long journey to their actual, safe destination. Due to terrible safety protocols, things go wrong.

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way right off the bat:

  1. Alien: Covenant is not a good film
  2. Alien: Covenant is not a good Alien film
  3. I prefer Prometheus to Alien: Covenant

If Prometheus is what happens when you take a slasher film and hurriedly retrofit it into a “thinking person’s science fiction film”, Alien: Covenant is what happens when you go the other way.

Be warned, if you were at all even the slightest bit interested in finding out why the Engineers created us and why they wanted to destroy us, prepare to be disappointed. That plot thread is hurriedly swept aside in a flashback in an attempt to course correct towards being more closely connected with the Alien franchise. But people hated Prometheus! Isn’t a course correction towards the rest of the franchise a good thing? Let’s take a moment to remember what else was part of the Alien franchise:

  • Alien 3
  • Alien Resurrection
  • AVP
  • AVP: R (I don’t remember what the R stood for, but it was probably Requiem or something equally terrible)

And let’s also take this moment to remind ourselves of a slow, ponderous science fiction film that Scott directed that wasn’t looked upon kindly until a few years later:

  • Blade Runner

Ultimately, what I am trying to say is that in the grand scheme of things, people don’t know shit; neither the authors, nor the audience.

And that is evident in Alien: Covenant. The ponderous core of Prometheus has been swapped out for that of a sleazy thriller, one that operates in the vague neighbourhood of Alien (complete with a condensed recreation of that first film in what passes for Covenant’s third act) after taking a detour through 80s slasher territory. People do stupid things for the sole purpose of delivering gory kills for the audience to enjoy, there is a lurid sex scene that gets bloodily interrupted, and the alien itself, far from being an unknowable walking metaphor for violation and sexual assault, is nothing but a bad special effect. They even managed to do the alien POV shot worse than it was done in Alien 3. Think on that.

Save for some two scenes of body horror (neither of which entirely approach the heights of the cesarean scene from Prometheus, though the first one gets close), the film is almost always better when the aliens are not on screen. In an Aliens movie. Prometheus at least had the good fortune of being distanced somewhat from Alien so it could be its own weird slow burn thing.

But aside from the aforementioned body horror and some effectively atmospheric gothic production design, Alien: Covenant is a film that puts on a show of being a horror film without actually committing to it. Everything else good about it comes as part of its past life as a Prometheus sequel. And all of its grandiose and “literary” discussions of the relationship between creator and created were better suited by Prometheus’ more consistently considered pacing. Sure, I did not think Prometheus got it right, but it sure as hell was better built to get it right than Alien: Covenant.

The one (two?) saving grace(s) of Alien Covenant is Michael Fassbender. This time playing a new Synthetic named Walter and returning as the creative and unhinged David, Fassbender electrifies the screen with his winning take on the uncanny valley. Affecting an American accent in something of a Lance Henrickson impersonation, Walter is a character that impresses in his coldness and restricted affect. And he is the perfect foil to David, a creature designed with a desire to create and understand. No better is this weird undercurrent of “humanity”, for lack of a better term, seen than in the film’s opening, a prologue introducing us to David’s first few hours. So much of the contempt between creator and created is suggested through reactions and body language as David prods and pokes at Peter Wayland’s insecurities about his mortality to see how far he can push and get away with it.

And then we have the scenes where the two synthetics interact. These sequences are crackling with an uncomfortable yet captivating “Platonic homoeroticism” while the two explore each others boundaries and try to seduce each other to their way of thinking. It really, really makes me wish the movie jettisoned the Alien connection altogether and became its own psychosexual thriller. But the aliens, creatures created out of unconvincing CGI, are the main draw, and Covenant: These Two Gay Robots are Totally Amazing would not a winning investment make.

And so we have part homoerotic thriller, part mad scientist movie (that totally robs the mystery of and defangs the Xenomorph), and part movie that dresses in the discarded skin of a gothic thriller by way of 80s slasher. A movie with no idea what to do with itself for an audience with no idea what is actually good for it. It’s time to put this franchise to bed before anymore damage is done to one of Cinema’s most iconic horror creations.

Advertisements

Fear(s) of the Dark

Fear(s) of the Dark is a French anthology of black and white animated horror short films.

Each of the shorts uses a different art animation style, and if you have seen anything like Halo Legends in the past, you will know what you are in for. Much like other film anthologies, the shorts vary in quality.

The film begins with a traditionally animated short that was reminiscent of the animation style of Fantastic Planet – a fantastic, surreal French Science Fiction animated feature.

After this short (which turns out to be interspersed between the other shorts) is a bizarre sequence akin to watching a Saul Bass styled credits sequence while a neurotic French woman recites all she is, was, and ever will be afraid of in your right ear. I do not know if there was an issue with my audio setup, or if it was intentionally balanced to the right channel, as the other shorts seemed to have no such issue. This short, too, was interspersed and served to act more as an intermission than anything.

A third short was a manga styled ghost story, that had the quality of a campfire story. Not particularly scary, but interesting in its imagery. Of all the animations, it was this one that stuck out, as it was the most washed out looking of the shorts. There were no deep blacks to be found. It’s not necessarily a bad thing as it feels like you’re watching the faded panels of an old manga come to life, but it did feel a little odd compared to the others.

Fourth came a short that had a similar look and style of animation to the first short. It concerned a man recounting a series of events during an early period of his life when an unknown creature was terrorising his town. It was quite well animated and was drenched in melancholy.

The shorts evoked different moods, ranging from melancholy to oppressive to sensual. Disappointingly, for a series of horror shorts, they weren’t particularly scary. The sole exception to this was the fifth and final short (my favourite) that follows an unfortunate man as he stumbles around an unfamiliar home in the dark. It is the closest to being chilling and makes perfect use of a deep inky blackness. In fact, for a majority of its run time, most of the screen is black, and the short uses outlines and quick flashes to suggest the sinister goings on in the house.

As can be expected in a series of shorts by different animators, the quality of sound design also varied. I’d say, once again, the Fifth short comes out on top with an amazingly dynamic soundscape and wonderfully ominous music. At one point the protagonist loses his shoe, and the difference in the sounds of his footsteps is amazingly realised. This level of attention to detail added immensely to the creepiness of the short. Sound is an incredibly important aspect of film, especially of horror films, and this short nailed it.

I’d say Fear(s) is worth watching if you are a fan of animation and would love to see some, at times gorgeous and mesmerising black and white animation. It works as a moody piece of experimental animation, but do not go in expecting any genuine scares. In that regard the anthology falls short.

David Lynch’s DumbLand

I tried to subject my friends to it, they switched to Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters. That right there is a comment on how easy it is to sit through.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters is an infamously difficult to swallow film, seemingly content in its inane surreality, so for it to be easier to watch than something is a comment unto itself.

I have only ever seen one other Lynch product through to completion, Eraserhead, so I may not hold as much sway over you as others well versed in his ouvre. In fact, I attempted to watch Inland Empire, but I was scared away by its utterly alien presentation.

I can say, however, that DumbLand is a deliciously audacious exploration of the inanity and absurdity of suburban life. The protagonist (for he is no hero) is a crude, violent caricature of masculine impulsivity. He swears, farts and engages in sometimes disturbing acts of violence. His son is but a sketch of a child, wide eyed and foetus-like in his construction. The wife is a horrid scribble of a person who communicates solely in terrified murmurs and screeches.

Together, they are a portrait of suburban decay. Each episode, of which there are 8, is roughly 4 minutes long. Nothing much of objective interest happens in any of them (save the last), but through Lynch’s lens, the inanity of everyday existence is transmogrified into something surreal and nightmarish.

I can’t really recommend this series to everyone. It is purposefully obtuse in its presentation. Voices (all provided by Lynch) are distorted and uncomfortable to listen to, it is violent and vulgar, there is a lack of detail and the animation is laughably sparse at best. These qualities add to the charm, but they can also put people off.

All up, I enjoyed it, even though I feel the joke was on me all along.