It’s hard not to compare this movie to the masterpiece that is Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). I don’t want to knock this film entirely; for a good chunk of the film, I was on the edge of my seat, and the body horror aspect is really ramped up from its 1979 inspiration, but…an inhibition in regards to disturbing content does not a good sci-fi thriller make. There’s a lot of lost potential here, and it begins in the tell-all “Trailer #2”.
Initially, the teaser made it seem like, yes, it would be a reiteration of Alien, but with a present-day, grounded-in-science theme. We’re already probing Mars, and with the news a few months ago of liquid water possibly flowing beneath the surface of the Red Planet, a film like this plays on those “what-if” questions in a very compelling way. However, the second trailer released reveals, pretty much, the entire plot of the film in watered-down language (revealed here, as it’s public domain at this point): these creatures are responsible for the lifelessness on Mars, and will do the same to Earth, should it make it to the surface.
There you go—if you’ve seen the second trailer, you’ve seen the movie. Money = saved.
While I like what this film’s saying—that humanity isn’t quite ready to tackle the deep, dark mysteries of space, in a very Lovecraftian way—it’s comparatively flat, relying on gore and other typical new-age horror tropes to evoke a response, rather than the atmosphere and pure, soul-scarring terror that the original utilized. Rookie mistakes abound, making these seasoned astronauts feel like fumbling trainees.
I did like the alien (a creature eventually named as “Calvin”), its seeming-amalgamation of a few different types of organism—a parasite, deep-sea cephalopod, and fungus—and its blind apathy towards the ISS crew. The crew, themselves, are complex, all with their own motivations and aspirations and views on the creature before it begins its rampage. The visuals outside the ISS are stunning—the best I’ve seen since Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014)—and the claustrophobic atmosphere within is conveyed in the tight corridors and sharp turns, that charm is missing…
The cast is fun, though, and varied. With jokes from Ryan Reynolds’s character, as always—even getting a bit meta, in parts—and relatability to the characters of Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson, it’s not a terrible film. Once the killing starts, it’s a sci-fi horror through-and-through, and the edge-of-my-seat feeling is warranted as each corner could be Calvin waiting to pounce on the next astronaut. I just wish that I didn’t know everything, going in.
My advice? Don’t watch the trailer ahead-of-time.
Or, do, then you don’t have to spend money on the film.
While the lead-up to the ending had me second-guessing myself—introducing an escape pod “shell game” that, rolling my eyes now, I should’ve seen the end result of—the whole thing’s really left open-ended, up to the audience to decide what happens next (please, film gods, don’t make this another franchise—not with the sub-par critical and box office response it’s had…). While that’s fine, and happens a lot these days…again, it’s no Alien. The film surely tries to be—even going so far as echoing Ripley’s cautionary message near the end of the film—but not delivering on that closed-case feeling of relief we get when Ripley blows the thing off into space.
Some will say, “Life did it better, it’s the Alien for this generation!” to which I will respond, “No, it didn’t, and you clearly haven’t seen Alien.”
Had my experience not been spoiled by the second trailer, maybe I would’ve been more wowed. I have no problem with a new film being inspired by an older one, just its filmmakers thinking they can do it better. Perhaps I’ll take a later look at last year’s The Shallows and hold it up to Jaws (1975), as another new-age take compared to its thrilling inspiration.
This movie gets a standard ‘Risk Assessment: ***/**, since it’s exactly what I knew it would be. Not a bad film (not the masterpiece its inspiration was, but not a complete dumpster fire) and not an instant classic, either. It’s a fun, science-y romp through our deepest, darkest “what-if” scenario. That’s…really it.
Next review: Power Rangers (2017)