Let me get this out of the way before we go any further: I do not think Xenomorphs need a cinematic origin story. The fact they are presented as a mysterious species without any logical motivation in the original 1979 film Alien and its sequels make them some of the scariest monsters ever to grace the silver screen.
Xenomorphs aren’t out for world domination or eradication of a species because of some personal vendetta. They don’t have a political agenda or special interests. They don’t show favoritism or empathy.
They just are.
But here we sit, with not one, but two prequels brought to us by the man who directed the original science fiction horror masterpiece, Ridley Scott. While neither of them are godawful dumpster fires (I’m sure there will be some debate on that in the comments), I feel they both diminish the impact of one of cinema’s greatest interstellar menaces.
Luckily, I’m not here to dissect the merits and flaws of Prometheus and Alien: Covenant (a few forthcoming jabs notwithstanding). Instead, I want to show some love for a film that felt more in tune with the Alien franchise than the recent Scott efforts.
That movie is Daniel Espinosa’s Life.
I’m sure many people saw the trailer for Life and had the same reaction as I had: “I liked this movie when it was called Alien.” But despite the film’s ostensible derivativeness, when I actually watched Life on home video, I discovered that what director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) and writers Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick (Zombieland, Deadpool) had crafted was an extremely well-shot, fast-paced, horror film that could have easily been a prequel to Alien.
In fact, I’d argue it plays better in terms of tone and terror than the actual Alien prequels.
Hear me out…
Life is simple, and simple is not always a bad thing. The film depicts a group of fairly well-developed characters who are in space, just doing their jobs when they encounter a deadly lifeform that picks them off one by one; essentially the same set up as Alien and Aliens (and myriad other great sci-fi horror films).
In Life, there are no strange origins of humanity hidden in alien architecture or monsters being engineered by a completely different race of dangerous extraterrestrials. There are just people doing the best they can and getting torn apart because of it. In Life, the alien doesn’t have a reason for being, only a primal desire to consume. Rationale be damned.
Life relies on the same primal survival horror elements that Alien did while swapping the themes of the perversion of human reproduction and sexual repression with xenophobia and colonialism (which, given, Aliens tackled pretty hard already). But if the filmmakers were to slap a couple Weyland Corp. patches on Ryan Reynolds and Co., you’d have a functioning prequel that sticks to what made the original work without fully destroying the mystique built up around Xenomorphs.
Without getting into spoiler territory, the ambiguously bleak ending could perfectly lead into Alien. As far as timelines go, there is over a century between the films (or about 70 years if Prometheus is canonical in this hypothetical scenario), which is more than enough time for some shady Weyland Corp. shit to go down in order for the films to have connective tissue. Lots of science fiction franchises jump centuries to continue their stories including this one.
Life could fit in when it comes to the monster design as well. It’s unique enough to stand on its own or be a prototype of what the Xenomorphs could become (instead of a weird white cobra thingy). Even the origin of the lifeform in Life is theoretical. Sure it was found on Mars, but is it from Mars? Who knows? Should we care? My vote is “no.”
Just let the monster be a scary monster.
I know Life isn’t really an Alien movie (nor is it a Venom prequel…), but it sure does feel right at home in the Alien Universe. The chilling isolation is there; the cool creature design is there; characters that are relatable without a ten-minute exposition dump are there, and the sheer intensity of being confronted with humanity’s deepest fear of the unknown manifested as a devastating harbinger of horror is there.
If nothing else, Life is a tight science fiction horror film with a great cast, fantastic production design, a really cool monster, and the complete lack of scientists removing their helmet to expose themselves to the atmosphere of a planet they just fucking landed on.
That last one is a big plus for me.