Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 43 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 7; Language 8; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
My mind reels, horror has appalled me…
In science fiction there are two approaches to encounters with extraterrestrials—one of wonder and possible benefits to humanity (E.T., Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind and Arrival), or one of violence and horror because the aliens are out to conquer or eat us (War of the Worlds, based on H.G. Wells classic, Alien, Independence Day, and a host of others)
Director Daniel Espinosa, directing from Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s script, has chosen the second, more traveled path. The six-member crew will experience a horror akin to that described in Isaiah concerning the news about the fall to invaders of the might city of Babylon—only now the stakes are far higher than an ancient imperial city. Earth itself is at risk.
Like most such films, matters start out calmly and slowly. The scientists aboard the International Space Station orbiting Earth are excited that they have obtained soil samples from a returning Mars probe. Studying a soil sample in a small sealed cubicle, biologist Dr. Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) discovers a one cell life form. Everyone is excited, especially as the form grows into a small multi-celled organism.
“Everyone” also includes the ship’s captain, Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), flight engineer Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada), physician Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), engineer Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), and Russian commander Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichanaya).
News of the discovery causes excitement around the world. A group of grade school children stand in Time Square as they converse with the astronauts. The alien is given the name “Calvin,” apparently after the name of their school. The scientists’ euphoria quickly evaporates when an accident sends the ever-growing creature into a dormant state, and Dr. Derry uses a miniature cattle prod-like instrument to shock it back into life.
Aroused, it attacks the scientist, latching onto his gloved arm, causing him to lose consciousness as it crushes his hand. The creature escapes its containment cubicle and devours the lab’s rat, growing all the larger. There follows a series of deadly encounters, the size and intelligence of the octopus/squid-like monster continuing to increase in size—and the crew cannot look to Earth for help because of damage to their communication equipment.
Capt. North tells the crew that she is not sure if her S.O.S. got through to Earth, and that if they cannot recapture or destroy the creature, she will have to launch them into deep space lest they contaminate their home planet. Thus, all their schemes and struggles become a race against time.
Of course, Alien is the film to which everyone has been comparing this film, mostly to the new film’s detriment. Nonetheless the acting is excellent in it, with a few moments especially moving. The latter includes the crew speaking with the children gathered before a camera in Times Square about their discovery, as well as Sho Murakami’s witnessing and encouraging his wife from space as she gives birth to their child in Japan.
Each crew member possesses both courage and ingenuity, but will these be enough against their formidable enemy? I will leave you to discover this, saying only here that director Espinosa’s horror film follows in the path of what we might call the cautionary tale—such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or The Fly. The special effects are excellent, with the huge, sprawling space station looking impressive, viewed at times against the starry sky, and at other moments against the cloud-spattered Earth. This is definitely not a film to see if you’re feeling down in the dumps—nor, because of its visual spectacle, on a small screen.
This review with a set of questions will be in the April 2017 issue of VP.