Alien: Covenant – a visual effects wonderland that will terrify

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Seasoned science-fiction horror movie-goers are a tough lot to please – they’re banking on “jump-out-of-my-skin” terror, heart-stopping action, superhuman powers that defy all logic and jaw-dropping special effects that thrill and send chills down their spine.

They don’t scare easy either – which makes it a rather tall order for any movie, including the latest instalment of the Alien franchise.

Yet, Alien: Covenant does manage to check all the right boxes and whet the audience’s appetite for the next instalment where the perennial fight of good versus evil will likely continue will more venom, more terror and certainly more brutality.

It is however not all blood and gore. Alien: Covenant does tackle the age-old subject of creation (where does one come from) and power (is the creator all-powerful), the very premise on which the movie stands.

This very subject leads to the introduction of the “synthetic” David (Michael Fassbender), the artificially intelligent android created by Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), who takes on a human form, complete with chiselled looks and buff body, very much like a real life Ken doll.

Soon enough however, the audience is introduced to Walter (also Michael Fassbender), an android the spitting image of David, but whose programming we later learn, has been upgraded so he is more a follower – a do-as-you’re-told member of the crew rather than a debater or philosophiser with the capability to think.

His is the job of watching over the crew on board the colony ship Covenant as it pummels through space in the direction of Origae-6, a remote planet believed to be habitable and where a new colony is to be built by its human cargo. Also in the bowels of the ship are 2,000 colonists and 1,400 embryos that will populate the new planet upon touchdown and who Walter is programmed to look after.

However an alarming neutrino shockwave throws a spanner in the works, and wreaks havoc on the ship, forcing Walter to wake the crew out of their stasis, a seven-year sleep to Origae-6, as their hibernation pods begin to malfunction.

Chaos ensues as the crew race against the clock to repair their ship before it disintegrates in mid space. Lives are lost, including that of their captain (James Franco), who is husband to the movie’s protagonist Daniels (Katherine Waterston), a terraforming expert.

An acting captain, by the name of Oram (Billy Crudup) is hastily chosen, and it is under his supervision, and against the wishes of Daniels, that the Covenant diverts its journey to an alternative planet after a signal is picked-up to the tune of John Denver’s Country Roads, indicating the possibility of human life much closer than Origae-6.

The expedition team find out soon enough however that this couldn’t be further from the truth but the alien has already detected its innocent prey and David, the sole survivor of an earlier expedition by the ship Prometheus, welcomes the humans and his lookalike android to his dark planet.

From this point on, die-hard horror movie fans are treated to an explosion of blood, slime and guck as a multitude of grotesque serpent-like creatures, called face-huggers, sprint at the speed of lighting onto the faces of its prey amidst a wild cacophony of blood-curdling squeals and screams.

There is very little intellectually-stimulating dialogue for a chunk of the movie although it is a special effects wonderland that will enthral and disgust you with its many gruesome yet fascinatingly lifelike scenarios – slipping on bloodstained floors while scrambling from the clutches of a monstrous creature that just burst through the spine of its human host, does leave one slightly bug-eyed and rooting for the poor sod, who, you guessed it, ends up mauled to death.

In fact, mauling, biting and tearing humans apart as they scream, curse and beg for mercy in blood-splattered laboratories, is mostly what this movie is made up of as aliens large and small, spider-like and serpent-like find potential hosts to breed by the millions.

There is also a face-off between Walter and David that is a marvel in moviemaking especially since both characters are played by the same actor and appear in the same scene. Fassbender himself is quite a joy to watch as he expertly differentiates between the two with subtle gestures and facial expressions so convincing that Walter stays firmly apart from David.

For fans of the Alien franchise, this movie will certainly not disappoint as it has all the necessary elements of a nail-biting adventure that is harrowing in almost every scene yet memorable long after the lights come on.

Directed by Englishman Ridley Scot, with screenplay by John Logan and Dante Harper, Alien: Covenant does live up to its tagline of being “The most terrifying cinematic experience of the year.”

Distributed by 20th Century Fox, Alien: Covenant is playing now in cinemas. It comes with a PG18 rating, making it unsuitable for children under 18 years old.