31 Favorites #22: Alien
Alien is another film that’s so embedded in American culture, that it’s taken on a life of its own. Alien stars Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, a member of the ship Nostromo’s crew. The ship is deep in space when they receive a distress signal from a nearby colony. They decide to investigate.
Upon exploring the colony, one member of the crew comes across numerous pods. While examining one of these pods, a...thing...emerges from the pod and attaches itself to his face. As we later discover, in very unfortunate ways, this face-hugging creature is the titular alien, also known as a Xenomorph – whose only goal is to breed and carry on the species. Xenomorph procreation is achieved via highly gruesome means, namely by impregnating the host species with an embryo (surprise surprise, humans work PERFECTLY as incubators!) which, after coming to term, erupts violently from the host’s body.
A good many people don't think of Aliens as a horror film, but I heartily disagree. This film is about horror of ALL THE THINGS – body horror, psychological horror, the horror of isolation in a cold, black and unforgiving space, and the terror that comes with knowing you’re being hunted by something you don’t fully understand. In my opinion, the film works well as a representative of BOTH genres, and therein lies part of its brilliance.
Three Things I Love About This Film:
- Man, where do I start with this? This is one of my favorite films of all time. Ripley’s character is a beacon of light in a slew of science fiction and horror films that depict women as love interests to male leads, victims, or second in command to a team of men. She’s fully realized, has complete agency, and uses both her brains and brawn to protect herself and her crew.
- The set design is unimaginably nightmarish, and thanks to H.R. Giger, it had enormous impact on the manner in which the film plays out. Making the xenomorph a seemingly biomechanical creature - having the resilience of a machine combined with an intimately organic manner of propagation - was a genius move and unlike anything viewers had ever seen before. But there’s also a beauty in Giger’s work. There’s an almost attractive precision and order to his creatures. The horror of the Xenomorph lies in its machine-like perfection, and its clarity of purpose.
- The opening credits. You're probably wondering what in the world I love about them. Well, attention to detail is one of the hallmarks of Alien, and the opening credits are no exception - they perfectly speak of the horrors to come. Segments of each letter appear from the darkness, line by line, until the entire title is spelled out. Watching it, I can't help but think of the Xenomorph. How it hides. How we don't know exactly what we're dealing with until we're deep into the film. I love that, from the very beginning of the film, we have a confusion and anxiety that carries out to the very end.
Well played Ridley Scott. Well played.
(BTW, you can watch the super awesome opening credits here!)