Fear in short supply in 'Alien: Covenant'

Katherine Waterston in Alien: Covenant. (Image courtesy 20th Century Fox)

T he biggest disappointment with Alien: Covenant - Ridley Scott's recent addition to the Alien franchise he kicked off nearly 40 years ago - is how little emotional reaction is earned from it. For a series that has, at its best, features staples in horror and action, Covenant gives little incentive for the viewer to grip onto anything for comfort. The things that go bump in the night in this franchise are no longer scary, or at least Scott and writers John Logan and Dante Harper can't capture the elements that made these creatures so terrifying in the first place. That concept of horror has been a constant for a franchise that has shifted dramatically in tone over the last four decades. Scott directed one of the best horror films of the '70s with his initial entry, while James Cameron used what Scott refined to craft an even better action flick with the sequel. Even Prometheus , the much maligned sequel and precursor to Covenant , is ambitious with its philosophical leanings and stabs at building a mythology for the featured beasts. But Covenant stretches the franchise's flexibility to its breaking point by trying to mix and match the tones of the previous films. Combining the philosophy that defines Prometheus with the horror elements of Alien and a little of the action aspects of Aliens doesn't mesh together as well as the filmmakers intended. The enormity of the ponderings about the meaning of existence aren't given enough time to develop nor gain the traction of the predecessor. What this film offers instead is limited to the mild musings of returning cynthetic David (Michael Fassbender), who shares his sentiments with a newer version of himself (also played by Fassbender) in an obviously onanistic function.

What really disappoints about Covenant are the attempts at invoking horror, the bedrock for the franchise and the aspect Scott himself mastered with the first installment. There is an inherent level of horror to the concept of Covenant , in which humans (played by Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Billy Crudup, Carmen Ejogo, and a collection of disposable parts) come across malevolent creatures far outside of their comprehension. It's the fear of exploration, albeit one that is less terrifying as the idea of hateful gods depicted in Prometheus . Visiting a new land with hateful alien beings is disturbing; having one's creator actively turn against them is downright horrifying.

The existential fear never ascends to where it should, nor does the more primitive scares found in being trapped by a creature that goes bump in the night. This is horror 101, the fear of the monster under the bed and the reason why this franchise exists in the first place, yet Scott appears to have lost that ability to invoke those frights in 2017. The problems are fairly fundamental, easy to spot when compared with the original. The ship in this film, the titular Covenant, is a large, new starship built to traverse the stars to find a new planet, leaving ample room for the humans to run and hide if need be. Contrast that with the Nostromo from Alien , a smaller vessel that's been knocked around space for who knows how long. There are fewer places to hide on the Nostromo, more places for the monster to trap its victim and engage in acts of carnage. More problematic is how rushed the featured engagement is. Things go wrong quickly and are resolved even faster, the plan to rid the ship of the alien coming about too quickly and far too easily to offer actual scares for the viewer. The crew in Covenant is never given the opportunity to have the extermination plan go awry as they are in previous films, which cuts down on the film's ability to invoke some sympathy into their plight.

Most worrisome of all is the aesthetics for the aliens in Covenant . Scott and crew mess around a little with the design, essentially showing the creatures in several forms before finally settling on the classic creature, sort of like an expanded version of Alien: Resurrection . Several of them are doofy looking, lacking the creepy visual innuendo of the classic model and limited moreso by some less than stellar CGI. The digital divide between human and alien is clear and disappointing, missing those scenes in which the creature comes ever so close to tearing through the victim's flesh at any given moment. The monsters instead look cheap and act cheaper, leaving the viewer let down by the lack of innovation by the filmmakers.

Review: Two and a half out of Five Stars

Click here to see the trailer.

Read more of Eric's reviews at Inconceivable Reviews.

Rating: R

Run time: 122 minutes

Genre: Sci-Fi

Ask Away Target audience: Anyone who have enjoyed the Alien series, including Prometheus .

Take the whole family? The rating is a little strong - the violence isn't that much greater than some PG-13 movies and the sex is minimal - but still keep the really young kids at home.

Theater or Netflix? Make it part of a Netflix evening.

How silly does this film get? More than expected. The movie carries those bits of meta silliness from Prometheus that are kind of groan inducing. It is most notable in a scene featuring Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup, a familiar looking pod, and assurances nothing bad will happen. The result is about what one would expect, and it makes Crudup's character look like a complete idiot.

Watch this instead: Alien and Aliens are both great, and I'm still a defender of the messy and flawed but ambitious Prometheus . It is worth hitting up James Cameron's perturbing The Abyss .

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