Sunday, May 20, 2012
Aliens Verses Predator: Requiem (2007)
The Movie: On a Predator spaceship carrying, among other things, live facehuggers; an alien/Predator hybrid is born. It quickly slaughters the ship’s crew and causes the vehicle to crash on a certain, familiar blue planet; just outside the small town of Gunnison, Colorado. However, one of the Predators manages to get off a distress signal just before it gets killed. The signal contacts some kind of specialist on the homeworld, who immediately heads for Earth.
The Predator specialist arrives pretty quickly, especially considering the interstellar distances that must be involved, and immediately sets to work hunting down the hybrid and “cleaning up” evidence of the presence of both kinds of aliens. Unfortunately, despite his speedy arrival, the hybrid and facehuggers have been very busy infecting the nearby small town.
In Gunnison, we are introduced to the lives who are about to have a nasty collision with cosmic horror. Ex-con Dallas Howard (Steven Pasquale) has just come home from prison; where the first person to greet him is his old friend Eddie Morales (John Ortiz), who also happens to be the sheriff. He also reunites with his teenage brother, Ricky (Johnny Lewis). Ricky has his own problems; he’s not so secretly pining for his old friend and classmate Jesse (Kristen Hager). Unfortunately, she’s currently dating Dale (David Paetkau); living, breathing, concrete evidence of the gods’ high support for birth control. Dale and his friends have long been going out of their way to make Ricky’s life a living hell. Also important for our concerns is Kelly O’Brian (Reiko Aylesworth); a war vet just coming home to her husband, Tim (Sam Trammell), and young daughter, Molly (Ariel Gade).
These two sets of homecomings arrive just in the nick of time to see it all go to Hell. Within a day of his arrival, Howard winds up having to give support to Morales; his old friend suddenly finding himself way over his head with a rash of mysterious disappearances and brutal killings. The situation exacerbates quickly; and as the two sets of extraterrestrials square off, the citizens of Gunnison are quickly caught in the middle of a very horrible situation that they have no reference for. And, while there is a military base nearby; this is definitely not the cavalry Gunnison is so desperately hoping for…
The Review: Before I begin my review, I would like to announce that this blog has now been up and running for two full years! It is still very much a work in progress and I have no clue where it will ultimately end up. Still, I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished thus far. Those of you who have been with me in that time, I am grateful for your patronage. Those of you who are reading this for the first time; I would just like to take this moment to point out that it’s now way too late to turn back, and that you might as well surrender now and save yourself the trouble. Bwahahaha!
I saw Alien Verses Predator: Requiem in the theater with a friend; and I think that what we really found appalling was that the people in front of us had brought their young daughter. The kid couldn’t have been more than four or five years old. Thing is, I found this movie pretty damn scary. Now, I’m a grown man and well aware that what’s on screen is not necessarily what happens in life. In fact, due to my fascination with movies and mildly obsessive nature, I have a better idea how it’s put on the screen in the first place than your average Joe. Also, having watched horror movies (and sometimes, worse) for around two decades now, I’m a bit jaded about what I see in my films. If I could find this movie scary despite all that, I can only imagine what it would have been like for a five year-old.
As I haven’t done any formal research on this you’ll have to take it with a grain of salt, but I suspect that the idea for this particular franchise matchup began with the movie Predator 2; where a brief, throwaway look at the Predator’s trophy room shows us the skull of the thing from the Alien movies among the other trophies. Throughout the 1990s I can remember Alien verses Predator matchups in paperback fiction, comic books, and video games; some of which weren’t half bad. It wasn’t until 2004 however until an actual Alien Verses Predator movie was released; and it was universally derided. Having not seen it for myself, I am in no position to specify the reasons for this; but the fact that it’s a PG-13 movie about two sets of R-rated monsters is most likely a good place to start.
Requiem came out three years later; again to near-universal derision. However, after watching it for myself I really couldn’t see why. Requiem is far from being a great work of art, or even a great movie in general. However, it is definitely one of the best attempts at a horror film I’ve seen come out of a major studio in a very long time.
First is the handling of the two franchise monsters. Now, I have long found the eponymous ‘aliens’ of that franchise to be particularly scary. In fact, they have made guest appearances in my nightmares as recently as the last few years. Just the look of them is terrifying, even when seen directly; something that can be said about very few movie monsters. Even more so is their very nature; these are things that use human beings as breeding vessels.
In recent years, the studios have made the major mistake of downgrading them; reducing the aliens from something straight out of one’s nightmares into mere monsters. This was especially obvious in the fourth movie of the franchise. However, Requiem doesn’t do this. Instead, the monsters are every bit as terrifying and nightmarish as they should be. Even the “predalien” works on this level. In appearance it is every bit as scary as its conventional brethren (okay, maybe the dreadlocks are a little goofy); and besides being bigger, stronger, and more dangerous in general, it also has a particularly disturbing new variation on the creatures’ method of reproduction. I just don’t understand why they had to make it a hybrid; just a run-of-the-mill uber-alien would have worked every bit as well. In short, however, the aliens come across as they should. Not as mere monsters to be fought, but a cosmic cancer that threatens anything it comes into contact with.
The Predator specialist is equally effective. It’s vaguely humanoid, but it is most definitely not human. When it is on the screen, we never have any narrative device telling us what it is doing. Instead, we have to determine purely by watching it. And, while there are a few minor humanish traits (I thought the brief show of sorrow it displays upon finding its dead companion in the crash was a nice touch), overall it is definitely a very inhuman creature. What I, personally, found most chilling was one particular angle to its actions that I could relate to. All throughout history there have been political, military and/or corporate messes that the offending organization tries to quietly “clean up”, but that ultimately do the most harm to individuals whose only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Predator, through its actions, is pretty much the apotheosis of these kinds of incidents.
The biggest element that I thought made Requiem work best as a horror movie was the simple fact that nobody was safe. They actually cack a kid at the beginning of the film; and there’s a scene of the hybrid rampaging through a maternity ward that I was shocked the studio let into this movie at all, much less into the theatrical release. Now, to stave off any misunderstandings from my readers, let me state for the record that I do not advocate or enjoy violence against children, pregnant women, or anyone, really. That is not my point at all.
My point is that the horror genre depends upon suspense to work. Particularly in survival horror, the subgenre into which this movie falls, the point of the story revolves around the suspense of whether or not the protagonist(s) will survive the horror. In the past two decades or so, Hollywood movie studios have been populating their horror movies with individuals that might as well have either big, glowing targets on their ass; or glowing neon signs over their heads that say “invulnerable, don’t even bother.” In short, we practically start out knowing who will survive and who won’t; who’s off limits to the monster and who’s fair game. There is no suspense whatsoever when you are fully aware of what will happen ahead of time.
With Requiem’s first two victims, a hunter and his son who witness the spaceship crash, the movie is effectively telling us in the audience “there is no safety net here. None of these characters are safe; none of them are off limits.” And it follows through admirably. While there are plenty of raw meat characters, individuals whose presence here is solely to up the body count, several of our protagonists get taken out as well; even ones we would expect to be off limits. This really ups the suspense, because it leaves us with no certainty who, if anyone, will survive.
One of the more common complaints about Requiem is that most of the characters and subplots feel like they wondered in from another movie entirely. Admittedly there is some truth to this; and none of the characters or actors are particularly memorable, in either a positive or negative fashion. But, I find that this sense of displacement nicely adds to the suspense. It’s clear that they are outmatched, outnumbered and outgunned; even the military vet back from war is in over her head and well aware of it. None of these people are really suited to handle the situation; which makes it even more uncertain whether or not they’ll survive it.
Also, the contrived movie romantic triangle between Ricky, Jesse and Dale the asshole is played a little differently from what we are led by other movies to expect. For one, Dale and his pack’s bullying of Ricky has a nastier, more realistic edge; I actually found myself wondering if they would kill him before the xenos got the opportunity. What’s more, the romantic subplot sets us up for a nasty plot twist that I, for one, never saw coming. The only real thing I find I agree with the naysayers of Requiem on is that there are too many scenes with insufficient lighting, so that it’s sometimes hard to see what’s going on.
Ultimately, Alien Verses Predator: Requiem is crap. However, any true B-movie fan will tell you that there are universes worth of difference between good crap and bad crap; and I would place it in the former category. Setting aside its obvious status as an attempt for a big studio to cash in on two popular franchises; Requiem is at its core a B-exploitation movie done on a big studio budget. The only real purpose of this movie is to scare the living Hell out of you, and I think it does a good job at that. Give this one a try if you’re in the mood for a relatively brainless, yet decent and fairly effective horror movie.