Alien: Covenant (2017) Review

rsz_ac1ALIEN: COVENANT (Dir Ridley Scott, USA, 2017)

Starring- Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz

No doubt when a new ALIEN film turns up everyone turns their heads in anticipated glee awaiting the new entry into the franchise which has lasted almost 38 years since Scott turned a spaceship into a terrifying claustrophobic nightmare pitting humans out of their depth, against an unstoppable killing machine. Since that first film the Alien has gone onto a superb sequel in James Cameron’s ALIENS, then followed by the underrated and superb dark misery of ALIEN 3 and the uneven and sub-standard ALIEN: RESURRECTION. Following that there were two heavyweights clashes with it’s rival extraterrestrial bad guy the Predator, ALIEN VS PREDATOR and ALIEN VS PREDATOR: REQUIEM, both as bad as each other. It took until 2012 for Scott to return to the franchise with PROMETHEUS a very flawed but technically stunning picture which has started a series of films to go about explaining the origins of the Xenomorph being and this brings us to ALIEN: COVENANT, the first film in this prequel series of films to feature the word ALIEN in it’s title.

Covenant is the name of the colonisation vessel on a seven year mission route to a new planet. On its journey the ship is hit by a solar flare storm which severally damages the vessel and causes loss of crew life including the main captain and husband to Daniels (Waterston) leaving Oram (Crudup) to reluctantly step up and take charge. The ship receives a distress signal from a nearby planet which Oram decides to send out a re-con mission to investigate and to see whether the new place could be a possible hospitable home for the colonists (you can see where this is going, right?). Naturally when they arrive some nasty spores causes some nasty reactions to their human hosts and the re-con crew find themselves under attack from an earlier version of the Xenomorph only also to find sanctuary from the synthetic David (Fassbender) from PROMETHEUS who has managed to survive on the planet. Yet David who sinister intentions in the previous film seem more apparent and this puts the crew in even more danger.

rsz_ac2It’s safe to say that this latter series of ALIEN films will not reach the tension and terror of Scott’s original, or the bombast and brutal action of Cameron’s sequel and not even the grim beauty of Fincher’s ALIEN 3 but in turn it’s trying to bring a fresh origin story to the franchise. Whilst PROMETHEUS felt uneven and quite overblown in it’s execution it seems to be a necessary forefront in establishing the beginnings of the origin. ALIEN: COVENANT does follow this in many way’s even with the dialogue which at times seems clunky and contrived and retains one of the main characters from that film, David. Though in the process it gets rid of the engineers from the previous film and only offers their absence with a flashback sequence that shows they where exterminated. Yet this is not fully explained or attributed and in its absence you would have liked to have known more of the background to the engineers especially since this is supposedly an origins story. Whilst it does attempt to follow a new path parts of the film almost seem like a greatest hits retread of the first two movies with a bit of ALIEN thrown in there and a bit of ALIENS dropped over here. It also does rely to heavily on the use of CGI effects for the Alien which seems a bit disappointing in retrospect when the original film used the classic man in a monster suit to great effect.

rsz_ac3Admittedly its necessary to use CGI for the Alien’s first beginnings and growth but at the same time the nostalgia and effect of prosthetic effects is greatly missed and the reliance on CGI ends up coming off as more lazy than necessary in parts. Despite the flaws the film is in the end visually and technically stunning. One thing that Scott is great at is world building and visual craft which has been one of the most important aspects of his career and will be a surely a hard act to follow in the forthcoming BLADE RUNNER sequel due out this year for that films particular director Denis Villenuve. Even with a flawed script Scott somehow manages to maintain a stunning visual presence in the film and design a fantastic outer space world which on the IMAX screen is brilliant to watch and thankfully in this films release they have dropped the gimmicky 3D effect which was utilised in PROMETHEUS. Credit should be given to the cast with Fassbender both in dual roles as the synthetic David and the Covenant’s ship own robot Walter and is again superb, Waterston is also confident and reliable in what is essentially the Ripley role as Daniels and also McBride as Tennessee the chief pilot. McBride has mainly been in comic roles but this time round he manages to shrug of the funny guy persona and deliver a decent likeable serious role as the brash Covenant pilot.

rsz_ac4In terms of being a return to the original nightmare of the first series of films COVENANT won’t reach those dizzying heights and whilst I can understand the negative feelings towards the film, I still like to recognise some of the impressive work within this particular outing and on the biggest screen you can see it, makes it all the more stunning. Given a stronger script Scott, who intends to carry on with another film in this series, could benefit even more. Though in the meantime he still manages to stage and orchestrate some fantastic visual and technical skill that at the core is one of the retaining and beneficial factors of COVENANT.


Queen of Earth (2015) DVD Review

qoe1QUEEN OF EARTH (2015)

Dir- Alex Ross Perry

Starring- Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston, Patrick Fugit, Kentucker Audley

Out Now on Dual Format Blu-ray & DVD from Eureka Entertainment as part of the Masters of Cinema Series

A stray into particularly non-horror territory for this review, though at UKHS we have taken on films that have decidedly not been classed as horror but still carry some similar and often strong connections to the genre and QUEEN OF EARTH is just that. A character driven piece of resentment, madness and grief superbly shot on 16mm, Alex Ross Perry’s film follows privileged and not so privileged characters and the inevitable confrontations between these two sets of people, that does not explode into violence but rather emotional violence and turmoil that leads to far darker consequences. Whereas his previous film, LISTEN UP PHILIP was more of a comedy drama, QUEEN OF EARTH is a lot more psychological and can be said, not that comedic in the slightest.

qoe3Opening with a shot of Catherine (Moss) crying with make up smudged across her face. She is being dumped by her boyfriend James (Audley) which is just adding to her woes and making much of her life miserable especially as her father has just passed away. She decides to go for a break to visit her friend, Virginia (Waterston) who is staying at her parents lakeside holiday home. After a break of a year since their meeting, where James co-incidentally tagged along, both friends have drifted apart and have no idea what has been happening in their lives. Catherine keeps being reminded of the previous holiday and along with her fathers recent death almost disconnects herself from Virginia and leads her to focus on the happier past times which is portrayed in flashbacks. This sets Virginia to start carrying a bit of resentment towards her friend part of which is due to her drama queen self resentment and part of which has been carried with Catherine’s previous relationship with James.

Matters are made worse when a neighbour who lives next door to Virginia Rich (Fugit) starts to become increasingly close to Catherine. Rich also displays contempt towards Catherine and her increasingly unhinged behaviour, which Virginia doesn’t really understand even though she still has a strong emphatic connection to her. It seems too late as Catherine’s erratic nature starts to unfold throughout the week and leads her to fall even closer to the demons of depression and madness.

qoe5Like I said before this is not a cheerful watch and however it is a very well made attempt to look into the breakdown of a character and the resentment and contempt that hides underneath people, whether they be long time friends or brief acquaintances, there’s a sharp look into the blunt and often nasty underside of human nature, the ugly side so to speak that hides away from view. It might be said that the breakdown of such horrible characters may not be a nice sounding or appealing idea on paper but thankfully through two brilliant central performances ends up being an interesting and often intense watch. Waterston is excellent as Virginia, a friend who is the only one allowed to be called ‘Ginny’ by Catherine, who leads a subtle performance that veers from contempt to often mournful sympathy towards her friend but at the same time realises she might be too late in finding any semblance of the Catherine she used to know. However, its Moss who is on form as Catherine veering from various scenes of mental and emotional breakdown and convincingly portraying her character without being overly showy or dramatic.

Is her characters breakdown and depression due to losing two men in her life, her father who passed on and her boyfriend who has left her leaving her with nothing when in many respects she already has everything? The best scene, which should become a future piece to use as a showcase of acting, is her bitter and spiteful monologue towards Rich, which starts with her saying “You fucking animal, you un-repentant piece of shit…” and carries on with a vicious spiel on what is wrong with people who make judgements of others.

qoe2Its a brutal and if slightly darkly comic speech of straight forward stark opinion which plays as a centrepiece to the films study of the dynamics of human relationships and silent contempt that people can have for one another. Perry’s film is paced in a well made break up of narrative between past and present which acts as fractured memory’s in Catherine’s psyche. He doesn’t let his film slip into melodrama, rather its played in a neat and even tempo that allows our central characters mind to slowly fall apart. This is enhanced by the intense handheld cinematography by Sean Price Williams, that intimately captures moments between characters as well as framing Catherine’s state of mind.

The scene where she is moving around in a house party encountering strangers is both uncomfortable and one of the films stark moments of visual horror. On watching Perry’s psychodrama there is certainly the influence of and many critics have rightly pointed out the work of Ingmar Bergman’s PERSONA and also Roman Polanski’s REPULSION, in which both films tackled female characters and psychological torment. Certainly added to that list would be Bergman’s HOUR OF THE WOLF, which tackled an artists descent into madness as he lives in isolation. If anything this further emphasises that Perry’s film even if it is set in the present feels like a piece of cinema that would have been made in the 70’s and has an entirely retro feel to it.

qoe4At times its slow burning and yes it does have some open ended moments that will frustrate the viewer and it will probably require another or maybe more viewings to untangle some of the films hidden meaning. Yet in retrospect Perry’s film is a brilliant piece of psychological character drama held by two stunning and convincing central performances that sheer with resentment, envy, sympathy and ultimately madness.