Why Fede Alvarez’s Alien could give the series the clean break it needs

Alien Covenant which doesn't star Timothy Olyphant
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As filming gets underway, how director and co-writer Fede Álvarez’s Alien movie could breathe new life into an ageing franchise.


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The sight of slippery, toothsome parasite punching its way through John Hurt’s ribcage sent a shudder through cinemas in 1979, and the strength of Alien’s atmosphere and imagery was such that it’s survived as a franchise for over 45 years.

Indeed, the ‘perfect organism’ originally conjured up by director Ridley Scott and his collaborators – among them H.R. Giger, Dan O’Bannon, Sigourney Weaver, and too many others to list – has allowed Alien to endure changing tastes and some decidedly variable sequels and spin-offs. For every out-and-out classic like James Cameron’s Aliens, we’ve had to endure such tawdry efforts as Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem, or the ill-fated videogame, Aliens: Colonial Marines.

Opinions were also divided over 2017’s Alien: Covenant, Ridley Scott’s second prequel to Alien, and the box-office takings were so tepid that 20th Century Fox didn’t exactly race to make a follow-up before it was purchased by Disney in 2019. To date,  Ridley Scott’s proposed Alien: Covenant sequel, one of two potential movies he once said would eventually connect up to the events of the original Alien, hasn’t been formally cancelled, but it doesn’t appear to be any further along than it was four years ago, either.

That Disney acquisition does, however, leave the franchise open to a new generation of storytellers. On television, there’s Noah (Fargo) Hawley’s long-in-gestation Alien series, which will take place on Earth and will also serve as a prequel to Alien; in 2022 FX boss John Landgraf confirmed that the show “takes place before Ripley” and that Sigourney Weaver’s signature character would have no part in the narrative. 

On the film side of things, we have writer-director Fede Álvarez’s Alien project, scheduled to start filming in Budapest on 9 March. With a youthful cast – Isabela Merced, Cailee Spaeny and Archie Renaux are among the names confirmed so far – it sounds like the movie will take something approaching a back-to-basics approach to the xenomorph. For one thing, it’s being billed as a standalone movie rather than a sequel or prequel, which means it’s automatically exempt from dwelling on the tangents that Ridley Scott meandered off on in his recent Alien films – giant, bald aliens, life-creating goo, androids with god complexes, and so on. 

Like last year’s Predator prequel-reboot, Prey, it’s also a lower-budget film destined for the streaming outlet, Hulu.

“In this ninth entry in the immensely popular and enduring film series,” reads the film’s recent press release, “a group of young people on a distant world find themselves in a confrontation with the most terrifying life form in the universe.”

(We can guess what the terrifying life form is that terrorises young people: if it isn’t a landlord, then it’s almost certainly the Alien.)

That Álvarez’s Alien movie is even in production is quite an achievement. Not so long ago, director Neill Blomkamp came close to making a direct sequel to 1986’s Aliens, with Sigourney Weaver reprising her role as Ripley and Michael Biehn returning as an acid-scarred Hicks. Blomkamp reportedly worked on the project for two years before it was abruptly and permanently cancelled, seemingly at the behest of Scott himself. “It’s possible that Ridley watched Chappie [Blomkamp’s divisive 2015 sci-fi movie] and he was like, this guy can’t do Alien so let’s just go ahead and move on,” Blomkamp told The Guardian in 2021.

A model of the Alien from Alien

Whether Blomkamp was entirely serious there or not, Fede Álvarez evidently managed to drive his project through a terrain that Blomkamp couldn’t. The story goes that Álvarez pitched his idea to Scott, who kept it in mind for several years before eventually calling Álvarez in 2021 to ask whether he’d be interested in actually making it. 

Álvarez certainly has form when it comes to making films in an older director’s cinematic playground. Having found success with a hit YouTube short, Álvarez made his feature debut with Evil Dead, a 2013 reboot of Sam Raimi’s legendary cabin-in-the-woods horror. Álvarez gleefully piled on the gore, mixing Raimi’s black humour with his own appetite for the grotesque – one scene involving a retractable knife and a tongue being particularly hard to shake.

The 2016 thriller Don’t Breathe, meanwhile, proved that Álvarez could direct suspense as well as gore. About a trio of would-be robbers stalked around a house by Stephen Lang’s visually-impaired yet deadly war veteran, it was almost unrelentingly tense – and laced with some strikingly twisted plot details.

Like Don’t Breathe and Evil Dead, Álvarez’s Alien is co-written by Rodo Sayagues, which might provide us with a few clues about the potential tone of their upcoming movie: lean, bloody, and intense. That Álvarez’s short film Panic Attack, a stylish alien invasion yarn, looked so good despite its $300 budget, also suggests that he’d be well suited to making a sci-fi horror film with a sum in the region of Prey’s $65 million.

A series of audition videos, briefly published to Vimeo in February 2023 and then swiftly either deleted or set to private, could suggest that the upcoming Alien film has a few things in common with Don’t Breathe. In the videos, an actor performs a handful of scenes which may or may not be from the finished script; from them, we can glean the basic outline of a plot: a small group of characters discover a Weyland Yutani ship, and use an old synthetic named Andy to infiltrate its MU-TH-UR security system to get inside. It’s difficult to know whether the lines spoken during the audition are from the actual script, but the similarities between its premise and Don’t Breathe’s – both are about wayward characters breaking into a place they shouldn’t, and getting more than they bargained for – are quite striking. 

Inevitably, official details of Álvarez’s Alien are being kept closely guarded, so we can only speculate about how it might expand on the 1979 film’s ideas. Even the film’s reported working title, Alien: Romulus, invites more questions than can currently be answered. In Roman mythology, Romulus was the founder of Rome, and something of a hot-head – according to legend, he killed his brother over a dispute as to which hill to build the city on. If previous Alien films are anything to go by, Romulus will be the name of a ship, like the Covenant and the Prometheus before it. But is there a significance to the name? Does it mean that Álvarez will deal in some of the same classical allusions that Scott’s prequels did?

(On the subject of ships, the name of the antagonist in Don’t Breathe, Norman Nordstrom, is an anagram of Nostromo, assuming you take a few letters away. It’s probably a coincidence.)

However Álvarez approaches his sci-fi horror, the thought of a leaner, lower-budget take on Alien is, for this writer, a refreshing one. While there were some interesting ideas in Scott’s prequels, it was always clear that his interest lay more in the antics of his ancient race of creators, the Engineers – not to mention renegade android, David – than the xenomorph, or even the human characters that regularly showed up to be slaughtered. 

What the Alien franchise arguably needs is a storyteller who’s actually interested in its title monster – in rediscovering its menace, making it feel truly scary again, and closer to the ‘perfect organism’ that first punched its way out of cinema screens over 40 years ago. Here’s hoping that Álvarez is that storyteller.

Image: BigStock

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