It's generally acknowledged that the creature in the Alien franchise is the scariest monster in all of science-fiction cinema. Based on original designs by Swiss artist H.R. Giger, it's a triumph of sinister design—a Freudian nightmare of biomechanical sex and death.
Alien: Covenant, the latest installation by veteran sci-fi director Ridley Scott, burrows into the psychosexual roots of the monster to present a bloody, baroque, deeply weird story. A sequel to 2012's inscrutable misfire, Prometheus, the new film concerns yet another spaceship crew encountering yet another alien infestation. All the franchise elements are present: derelict ruins, extreme body trauma, a strong female lead, and lots of dripping water, not to mention other fluids.
But Scott switches things up by structuring the story like a classic Gothic horror tale, complete with direct references to Byron and Shelley. The story takes place in a sepulchral planetary necropolis that is among the scariest cinematic spaces ever conjured, right up there with Dracula's castle and Frankenstein's lab.
Michael Fassbender returns as the synthetic life form David, who's been stranded in the tombs beneath the city for years. Is he friend or foe to the marooned spaceship crew? That's determined eventually, but not until the lethal xenomorphs pick off the cast one by one, dismembering some, impregnating others. Good times.
Covenant is easily the best Alien movie since the first two, and this is the darkest sci-fi vision yet of our evolving cultural anxieties around machines and artificial intelligence. A persistent ambient dread hangs over the film like a sticky red mist, and you may feel it clinging long after you leave the theater. I had some pretty severe nightmares after seeing this one—but hey, that's how you know you got your money's worth.