Alien: Covenant (2017)

Alien: Covenant (2017) Cover

Alien: Covenant is the product of director Ridley Scott adjusting to fan criticism. Specifically, the vocal backlash to Prometheus, a thoughtful but flawed Alien prequel. Where other directors might respond with a gun shy sequel, Ridley embraced it. While Prometheus avoids the xenomorph as out-dated, Covenant embraces it as relevant. It uses an intelligent story, beautiful acting, and visual style to deliver the Alien prequel we deserve.

I was on the edge of my seat through the entire film. Ridley Scott produced a blend of heady sci-fi, body horror, and psychological thriller. It’s difficult to discern if this is a less thought provoking work than we would have gotten if there had been a more positive reception to Prometheus. This is because Covenant doesn’t abandon these questions. It grasps on to a single one and focuses on it with force and clarity.

Prometheus asked us to consider how we were made, why were we made, and does our maker love us or even care. Covenant asks if our maker is worth our love. It’s a question loaded with loathing for humanity and for the things we have built. If the answer is no, then none of the other questions matter.

In a way, this could be Ridley’s response to the feedback about Prometheus. He asked us to think about who we are and where we come from, and in rejecting that, he then asks if we even care. Not maliciously or out of spite, but with the context of asking if we even should care. We’re absolved of having to care, but at the expense of the life of our creator. From there, it makes everything we’ve built stink of death, and it makes every character feel alone.

My favorite aspect of the film might feel like a small thing. The story starts with a colony ship, and so every character on board is paired in a relationship. This detail means that every character is invested in one other character in the story. As lives are lost, the irrational behavior of the survivors feels believable.

This is undermined by rushed character development. Failing to fully develop the crew is the largest failure in the story telling and the film as a whole. Clocking in at 2 hours long, Covenant still feels rushed, and could have benefited from being about 30 minutes longer. The best way to experience this movie is to watch the viral video prologues before watching the movie:

Both of these are fantastic short films that add context and character to Covenant. In the case of The Last Supper, the personality it adds to some of our main characters is essential and absent from the film itself. It’s nice that they exist and are widely available, but I can’t help but imagine a film that captures this humanity. It would definitely be a better film.

Some of the characters make decisions that feel dumb, but even this reflects the larger sin of poor character development. A feel for who they are allows you feel their helplessness. It enables you to understand their suddenly being alone after losing someone they have loved for years. Poor decisions can be understood through the eyes of pain and grief, but wo lose out if we don’t identify with them.

Talented acting from a dedicated cast manages to make up for some of this, though. Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, and Danny McBride all delve head first into the insanity of loss. Even clipped of meaningful introductions and without any time to breathe, they sell you on who they are. Their performances give the downward spiral of the last half of the film weight. The increasing emotional instability gives Covenant a feeling of psychological madness. The best part is that this element is unique to Covenant in the Alien franchise.

Another of the other places that impressed me was the style. Much of the great charm of the original Alien came from how deeply it embraced the art of H.R. Giger. Covenant thrills in it, and not only in the design of the alien, but in almost every set outside of the human ships. Covenant blends this with the breathtaking landscapes and vistas that were one of the best parts of Prometheus.

This all results in a chilling horror-thriller that is 40% Prometheus, 40% Alien, and 20% Psycho. There were moments where I was genuinely heartbroken and terrified. Alien: Covenant may be my favorite Alien film. Ridley Scott has given us an excellent entry in the franchise and a brilliant response to fan criticism.

Final Verdict:Alien: Covenant is one of the best films in the franchise and a must watch horror.