Alien: Covenant (2017) should not be called Alien: Covenant. It really should be called Prometheus: Covenant, or perhaps more directly titled Prometheus: But this time there’s actually Xenomorphs. That’s really what Alien: Covenant is from a holistic perspective, more Prometheus. It’s all there, the proto-creatures, the weird black stuff, the often ham-fisted but ever so rarely poignant religious overtones, the effectively used effect work, the ineffectively used plot, the well acted and off putting android, and the absolute maelstrom off poorly developed character’s making painfully bad decisions. However unlike Prometheus, that’s not everything the film has to offer, and every so often once the plot gets out of the way and something of a decent horror film starts to emerge. Blood sprays, bones snap, and people run around with looks of genuine fear on their faces. But it’s short lived, and the film soon falls back into it’s own meandering mess.
The main flaw in Alien: Covenant is at heart the same flaw that killed Prometheus; the characters. In both films they’re a forgettable bunch who mainly serve as cannon fodder and to further the plot by touchings things they shouldn’t be touching, excluding in both cases Michael Fassbender’s androids. The lead of the film is Daniels (Katherine Waterson), purely because she has more screentime than any other character and appears on a few of the posters, who at times acts like an Ellen Ripley but for the most part just flops around like your typical slasher victim. The rest of the cast fare no better, though unlike Daniels they tend to stick with a singular characterization, as they nonchalantly walk around an alien planet without so much as a wet rag to cover their mouths, and their actions are at times so nonsensical and downright inept that any audience not doped up to their eyeballs on valium will be scratching their heads in confusion. As much as the tone, the lighting, the gore, and every other element contribute, getting an audience to connect and more importantly empathize with a character in a horrifying is where the horror in any horror movie is generated, so there’s not much horror to be found in Alien: Covenant.
Speaking of the visuals, they’re good, but not impressive enough to warrant any serious interest. They serve their purpose well enough; the Aliens look menacing and move fluidly, the ships look high-tech and futuristic, and the architecture on the planet has clear Classical Greek and Egyptian influences but is still clearly alien in design. It’s all used to good effect too, as apart from the few camera tremors when a crew member is being mauled, the film is shot smoothly and framed with a sense of foreboding danger as shots trail off into shadows. The dull gray colour grading works well with the cinematography, giving the world a lifeless and sterile feel that works wonders in creating an uneasy tone, but the film fails to capitalise on this with the action, which is always either too short and offscreen or too freneitc, making it difficult to focus on what’s going on. Still the gore is bloody and well presented, so if nothing else it’s a nice movie to look at.
What it isn’t is a nice movie to listen to. The writing is a painfully dull mess with the kind of dialogue that switches between pure exposition and boring chit chat making the already underutilized and undeveloped seem almost like cardboard cutouts after the first half of the movie. This results in a lot of strange tonal shifts between tense moments and strangely long discussions on the nature of creation . These quasi-religious debates don’t really serve any purpose in the story, and their only effect is to take up long blocks of the film and ruin the pacing by dragging everything to a standstill. Fortunately they’re packed quite densely into the center of the movie, so their damage is somewhat mitigated, but they’re still a drag to sit through. The aliens will pop up throughout the movie, but never to much surprise, which partially the fault of the cue heavy score, which sounds fine but serves no other purpose than to spoil the ambiance for the audience whenever something scary is supposed to happen.
Alien: Covenant is certainly an odd beast. It’s not quite the heavy handed drudgery of Prometheus, nor is it the terror filled space slasher that is Alien. It’s more happy to rest in-between the two, resulting in a movie not quite focused enough to take seriously, but not quite terrifying enough to get caught up in either. It’s a sometimes fun B movie that comes close to being good, but not knowing what it wants to be, rushes around between set pieces whilst things blow up and people get perforated.