Overview: The crew of the Covenant, a colonist ship bound for a distant planet, intercepts a message that leads them to an uncharted planet and home to a familiar threat. 20th Century Fox; 2017; Rated R; 124 minutes.
Covenant: There are two essential films to watch before seeing Alien: Covenant. One is the 2012 film Prometheus and the other is the 1979 film Alien. One is a predecessor to Covenant and the other is what Covenant’s story is supposedly leading up to. Both are directed by Ridley Scott.
While there are other Alien films, these are the two to watch, not only because they’re both directed by Ridley Scott, who is also the director of this film, but because this film would be best described as the fixed middle-ground between the two. The crew of the Covenant’s main goal is to survive the Xenomorph attack, much like the main goal of the crew of the Nostromo in Alien, and yet they find themselves confronted by David (Michael Fassbender), a robot with a firm ideological standpoint, much like the crew of the Prometheus in the film of the same name. Scott then finds a way to explore his themes of faith, death, and creation within a structure similar to his acclaimed 1979 horror film.
Paradise Lost: While Prometheus’s main theme, titled “Life”, plays merely like a haunting echo of the past, the crew of the Covenant land on an uncharted planet abundant with vegetation, water, and natural resources. This is quite new for Scott’s Alien movies, as both films featured planets that pretty much screamed “You Will Die Here.” It is on this lush planet Scott sets the stage for his killing.
Scott uses this environment to contrast life with death (literal killings of people shepherding a colony mission here), which sets the stage for his main examinations of creations, their relationship to their creators, and the atrocities they will inherently commit. The film even plays out like a reverse “Noah’s Ark,” with the crew, being mostly comprised of couples, making their way to ground level, separating from their significant others, only to be killed off one-by-one.
Ozymandias: The film, naturally, gets its inclination to cite religion and other religious texts and works of art from its predecessor, Prometheus. One such work is Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” as one character quotes, “look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
If Prometheus came to the nihilistic conclusion that there is nothing waiting for humanity at the end, and seeking knowledge and purpose is a both futile and fatal quest, Covenant poses the horror of creation’s misguided assertion of superiority. It’s thus very fitting that Scott brings back the Xenomorph as a horrifying threat. However, Scott also manages to assert that this series has a scarier menace in it that is neither the Xenomorph nor the themes Scott presents.
This new (?) menace reveals itself as the most horrifying entity in this movie. While the first sequence of blood and horror from when the crew arrive on the planet should go down as a franchise highlight, much of the film’s later moments of distress come from this entity. It could possibly be Xenomorph fatigue, after having seen it in action for about four films already, but this entity is philosophically fascinating and scary at the same time. That ending is sure to make anyone feel personally violated. It was very much better than yet another “Xenomorph-in-closed-corridors” showdown.
Overall: Covenant is a Prometheus sequel noticeably constructed to be presented as an Alien film. While that approach (or possible studio mandate due to obligation to the fans) does hinder the film from reaching the ambitious heights of Prometheus, Scott, with his masterful direction and deep interest in exploring philosophy through science fiction, is still able to capture and follow through on the spirit of its predecessor. Alien: Covenant incites despair with grim themes and a petrifying new face of horror.
Featured Image: 20th Century Fox