‘Alien: Covenant’ Review: A Typical Sci-Fi Horror Flick With Doses Of Comedy
The conventions and cliches of supernatural horror movies are well-known to most fans of this genre, and Alien: Covenant, director Ridley Scott’s sixth installment in the Alien film franchise, contains nearly all of them.
‘Alien: Covenant’ Review
Covenant follows the journey of a crew on an eponymous colony ship to a distant planet they believe is a paradise, and is set in the year 2104, roughly 15 years after events of Prometheus (2012), a prequel to the series. The crew members of the Covenant include Daniels (Katherine Waterston), a scientist with expertise in life on other worlds, a synthetic android named Walter (Michael Fassbender) created by a large company called the Weyland Corporation that oversees the expedition, and a wisecracking pilot named Tennessee (Danny McBride). Daniels’ husband Jacob (James Franco) died during a previous expedition while he was captain of the Covenant.
Together with a ragtag posse of other scientific experts and security leaders — (Billy Crudup, Callie Hernandez, Jussie Smollett, Demian Bichir, Amy Seimetz) — most of them married couples — and two thousand colonists, the Covenant team are awoken by Walter. The android tells the crew he will assist them in their attempt to investigate what happened to Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, an archaeologist who disappeared during a failed mission aboard the Prometheus ship years prior and was presumed dead. Upon arriving on the planet where Shaw vanished, the members of the Covenant face a species of predatory extra-terrestrials and another android named David, (also played by Fassbender) who is identical to Walter but was created before him to serve as a crew member of the destroyed Prometheus.
The film is rife with conversations about the dangers that may exist on the planet where the Prometheus crashed, and scenes of one crew member after another being viciously devoured by the virus-carrying aliens. Blood and guts abound, as do a series of attacks — of both the unsurprising and shockingly sudden variety — and ear-piercing screams. Perhaps one of the few aspects of Alien that make it more palatable are the occasional funny lines — dirty puns and double-entendres, emotionless delivery of dramatic lines, sarcastic quips —that are intertwined with the monsters’ merciless carnage and platitudes like “your choice: serve in heaven, or reign in hell.” The plot twist revealed during the very last scene also makes the film more bearable, but even that is something that also seems all too familiar to sci-fi fanatics and can be foreseen by paying attention to the details.
The aliens are certainly frightening, though not particularly original in their aspect or character. Today’s CGI technology only makes the extra-terrestrials appear slightly more gruesome and bloodthirsty than the ones from the original film, which was released in 1979. Fassbender plays both his roles with satisfactory nuance. He juggles two diametrically different personas — and accents — with apparent ease, though his performance is not as extraordinary as his other famous film roles like Steve Jobs (another project Fassbender and Waterston collaborated on). Again, the German actor’s interspersed funny moments — both deliberate and unintentional — while playing two android brothers help give the audience a break from the carnivorous aliens’ assaults, as do several other actors’ unexpectedly humorous contributions. Scott has been known for stating he is the type of director who enjoys the amalgamation of horror and comedy, so a continuation of this trend in Covenant is not surprising. Nevertheless, the dynamics of the relationship between humans, androids and aliens are not explored in an original or deeply philosophical way.
The score of the film is not particularly more terrifying than that of other horror franchises, and neither are the lighting or action sequences. Only the performances of Fassbender and Waterston — who plays her terra-forming expert character Daniels with somewhat convincing perseverance —seem to stand out above the rest. Waterston, the daughter of the legendary actor Sam Waterston, displays a genuine-enough ability to naturally shift from fear to shock to anger to courage as Daniels, a character that has been compared to Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley from the first four movies in the Alien saga for both her wits and bravery.
Alien: Covenant has its doses of enjoyable and frightening moments that make the audience keep their eyes firmly locked on the screen. For the most part, however, it is replete with corny and overused sci-fi/horror tropes that pay homage to classic alien-themed movies but with only a handful of references to modern-day culture.