Teeming with themes of creation and alien existentialism, Prometheus presented a new vision of the Alien universe that deliberately strayed away from its horror roots. Fans clamored for a return to director Ridley Scott’s horrifying ways, but instead got a refreshing exploration of the mythos that was, until Prometheus’s release, clouded in mystery.
Five years later, despite explicitly stating that the Prometheus series is its own story, Scott is back with a direct sequel to 2012’s hit and a blatant prequel to his original masterpiece, Alien. Because of its precarious nature, Alien: Covenant exists at the cusp of two different genres: straight-up horror and fantasy sci-fi.
Like a beachcomber staring at dark clouds forming on the horizon, Alien: Covenant is gearing up the series to enter full Alien territory. On its own, Alien: Covenant is a terrifying blend of body horror and Lovecraftian mystery. While the tandem does leaps and bounds to the film’s overall tone, its opposing dichotomy creates a jarring inconsistency with pacing and story.
Covenant starts ten years after the events of the previous film, with a terraforming and colonization expedition of the same name. Michael Fassbender plays Walter, an upgraded version of David, Prometheus’s complex android. He oversees the Covenant while its human crew is in cryosleep before an unforeseen neutrino burst damages the ship and necessitates the crew’s awakening. While fixing the damage, chief pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride) intercepts an all-too human radio transmission from a nearby planet that coincidentally seems like a better fit for their colony. Newly instated captain Oram (Billy Crudup) decides to investigate, despite the protests of terraforming expert Daniels (Katherine Waterston).
The reintroduced xenomorphs and facehuggers make the film’s most frightening and suspenseful scenes. An air of tension never leaves the screen once the infamous aliens make their appearance. Also, with much more advanced graphics technology since the original movie, Scott built an even scarier and truer-to-life alien at par with today’s standards. Likewise, thanks to its hard R rating, Scott delivers an image that’s raw and much more gorier.
It’s only a shame that the aliens’ screentime is relegated to only a third or a half of the film’s total runtime. Covenant takes a lot of time building its own story and wrapping up Prometheus’s. This was very much needed to establish the bare dynamics of the Covenant’s crew. But more often, it clumsily juggles between a Prometheus sequel and an Alien prequel. The pacing spurts out in fits and starts that works separately but not smoothly as one film.
Sadly, the film’s two identities don’t gel together quite perfectly nor stand out as perfect incarnations of either. Covenant lost the grand mystery surrounding the Engineers as creators of humankind. It doesn’t have the bleak horror instigated by the original, either.
Who cares, though? Covenant is terrifying. It’s frightening. It’s horrific. Most importantly, it hits all the notes of a true Alien movie. Ridley Scott has still got it. If anything, Covenant whets my appetite for the conclusion of Prometheus’s story. Scott has already promised a final movie to bridge the gap between Prometheus and Alien. And I can’t wait.