In Annihilation, a band of women set off to investigate a bizarre natural phenomenon that has resulted from a fallen meteorite. Alex Garland directs the film and wrote the screenplay (based on a novel by Jeff VanderMeer, which is part of a trilogy). The mysterious event has been named “The Shimmer” in deference to the prismatic bubble that surrounds a lighthouse at the epicenter – a bubble that is growing. No previous expeditions have returned. Like Garland’s previous directorial work Ex Machina, Annihilation dazzles with its visuals, sports an intriguing and tight plot, and ultimately leaves the audience with few explicit answers about what exactly has been going on. There has always been power in subtext, especially in science fiction, and Annihilation is an impressive and intelligent new entry to the genre.
The Alien franchise has been limping along since the early ‘90s, and a covenant with God herself can’t save it from the paucity of original thought on display in Ridley Scott’s latest shade of a film. Alien: Covenant builds a great starting point, but squanders everything near the end of the first act, and it simply isn’t cohesive or confident enough to recover. Faint echoes suggest that the terrifying magic of the xenomorph may still be alive, but they never stand out above the background noise.
The marketing team over at Alien headquarters is hard at work polishing up a turd. A teaser trailer, a Red Band trailer, a “Last Supper” prologue, and the latest layer of varnish, a CGI-fuelled full-length trailer that apes off both Prometheus and Alien and Aliens in a vain attempt to discover the perfect way to mix together old things so that the result feels new. Unfortunately for director Ridley Scott, it has been almost three decades since a film in the Alien franchise thought to try something interesting and different, and he’s simply not built up any benefit of the doubt with Prometheus (or Robin Hood, or Exodus: Gods and Kings). This latest trailer does not portend well.
In Denis Villeneuve’s high-concept science fiction film Arrival, the expert director deftly explores a profoundly different view of reality – all in the guise of an alien invasion story. Based on the novella Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, the story is hard science fiction at its greatest, and ponders the challenge and ramifications of communicating with an alien species during first contact. In what has become a hallmark of Villeneuve’s style, the film boasts a fascinating non-linear storytelling technique that factors heavily into the plot. Though there are really only four characters of note, each is ably performed by an outstanding actor, with Amy Adams’s performance shining through as something special. This film takes advantage of its genre perfectly, altering a single idea about language and contemplating the potential ramifications. It seems as though Denis Villeneuve has been working in science fiction for his entire career; his treatment of Arrival is a deft exploration of the nature of time, language, and communication – both between humans and aliens, and humans and each other.
Sexual interpretations of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) abound, but few tie the overt sexuality of the film to its professed objective, which is to be scary. Alien is a horror film (specifically, a slasher; Ridley Scott excitedly explained the film to his cast as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in space). So then, why the sexual imagery and themes? Sex can be scary. Even when consensual and enjoyable, it can adopt an air of fear, anxiety, and discomfort. Scott’s brilliance with Alien and its sexually-charged themes lay in the way it transitions from our quaint hang-ups with sex to the terrifying violence inherent in the act of rape. Visual symbolism in the film initially reminds us of both male and female sexual anatomy, but transitions piecewise into the aggressive sexuality of the rapist. As the film proceeds, the male aspects of the sex begin to dominate until the unbridled Xenomorph literally rapes its final victim. These sexual characteristics serves to disturb the audience in two fashions: first by suggesting the anxiety and the scariness of the sexual organs and sex itself, and second by perverting sex into a primal violence and forcing the audience to experience it firsthand.