'Alien: Covenant' review: More than just shock and gore
Alien: Covenant opens with a scene that sets expectations.
David (Michael Fassbender), the synthetic human who we last saw in Prometheus (2012), wakes up. In the room full of beautiful objects of art is his creator Peter Weyland (Guy Pierce), who proceeds to converse with him about the gifts of humanity. Through their process of questioning and answering, we become aware that David named himself after seeing Michaelangelo Buonarotti's famous statue of the Israelite who defeated a giant with a mere shot from his sling.
The conversation rapidly evolves. In a discussion about creation and existence, David starts to question Weyland. He uses what Weyland utilizes to establish his superiority over him – the fact that he created him – as a tool to rattle his supposed master's beliefs. David at least knows who his creator is, but Weyland, in all his grand posturing, is still roaming the universe for an answer. (WATCH: New 'Alien: Covenant' trailer released)
The film swiftly moves to outer space where Matthew (also Fassbender), a synthetic human just like David, is navigating a spaceship full of sleeping humans to a habitable planet they plan to colonize.
The spaceship encounters a random flare, waking up the crew and killing the captain. Oram (Billy Crudup), a self-proclaimed man of faith, takes over as captain and swiftly decides, after getting a rogue signal from a planet that appears to be more habitable than their original destination, to change course, much to the protestation of Daniels (Katherine Waterston), the ship's terraforming expert and grieving girlfriend of the ship's recently deceased captain.
Predictably, Oram's decision to go for the safer route is wrong. The planet, which reveals itself to be full of vegetation that seems to be from Earth but without any sign of animal life, is actually home to the murderous aliens who are just waiting for hosts to continue their evolution. Covenant from this point forward becomes a monster movie made more intriguing by the philosophical repercussions that its cleverly staged introduction laid out.
Director Ridley Scott masterfully creates tension out of the unknown. The film's horror thrives not only in the series' trademark display of gore and violence but in the creation of unease and danger from what essentially is familiar. Coupled with the idea that not only are the characters on the brink of being massacred but that humanity is in danger of obsolescence, Covenant unsettles seamlessly.
Subservience and rebellion
What really sets Covenant apart is how the focus of its intent to terrify is not with the aliens but with the synthetic humans that are impressively played by Fassbender. In a way, the film exposes humanity's folly. It questions faith and religion, pitting humans on the verge of extinction with a being it has created with also the ability to create but without the disadvantage of mortality.
The Alien series has always exploited humanity's fears and insecurities. The films have perverted motherhood, having aliens brutally explode out of swollen bodies, and bastardized the sanctity and pleasures of sex, having designed the aliens with the capability to kill via horrific penetrations. They have defiled machismo, having portrayed men as indecisive and fickle-minded, less likely to survive when confronted with conflict.
Covenant has all that and more.
The film's most enduring images are also telling of its subtle politics. In one scene, in a seemingly out-of-place but undeniably intriguing display of homoerotic undertones, the two synthetics played by Fassbender engage in flute lessons where David, who has nefarious intentions for the marooned crew, is recruiting Matthew, who has been designed by humans to be less like discerning humans and more like subservient machines, to his side.
At once, the film burdens its title to mean more than just the feral beasts whose aim is to propagate their species by turning humans into breeding pods. By suggesting power struggles and an effort to retain superiority, the film turns its attention to those who are kept in the margins, forced into subservience, and rebelling.
Translated into a more contemporary world-view of class struggles and social alienation, Covenant scares because it makes sense even in reality.
Covenant sees the series evolving into something more mature than it already is.
It helps that Scott seems to be interested in posing questions rather than just overwhelming his audience with shock and gore. His film creeps with the numerous implications of its subversive devices. It is both nostalgic, with its insistence on making use of tropes that have been used as far back as the first film in 1979, and more importantly, very current, with its nuances that dissect an all-too-familiar world all too wary of the other making a stand. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ 'Tirad Pass.' Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.