The Next Alien Movie Should Take Inspiration From Prey
Prey is a brilliantly uncomplicated film. It takes the concept of the Predator, as established in John McTiernan's 1987 movie, and cleverly recontextualises it in a new setting. It's not an origin story or an attempt to expand the mythology. It's a straightforward movie about a Yautja hunter arriving on Earth and searching for worthy prey—in this case, a young Comanche healer turned hunter named Naru. It's refreshing watching a movie based on an established series that doesn't dwell on mythologising what came before. The Predator exists on its own terms, rather than as a throwback to the original film, and the result is a creature as formidable and terrifying as it was when it was first introduced 35 years ago.
In 1979, Ridley Scott made a landmark movie with a similarly uncomplicated premise. Alien was the story of Ellen Ripley, a woman trapped aboard a spaceship with a deadly, merciless alien hunter of her own. But then the series got more complicated. More aliens were introduced, the mythology deepened, and eventually—in Prometheus and Covenant—it became a grand, philosophical, epoch-spanning story about humanity's place in the universe. As flawed and occasionally frustrating as these later movies are, I still enjoy them. But watching Prey makes it more obvious than ever that Alien desperately needs to take a similar path, ditching the baggage and getting back to basics.
I love Alien's mythology. Weyland-Yutani, the Engineers, David's experiments, the black goo—all that good stuff. But we've reached a point now where the series is so overloaded with far-reaching lore that the clarity and simplicity of the original movie has been lost. The next Alien movie should be like the first: a slasher in space. I'd still like to see some deep cut references to the larger universe—like the flintlock pistol in Prey—but the most pressing matter in the story should be the alien itself. All I want is a single isolated location, a group of interesting characters, a lone xenomorph trying to kill them all, and one survivor who beats the odds and maybe finds a way to kill it. That's really all an Alien story has to be.
Prey works so well because it doesn't feel like it's a movie based on a huge, recognisable blockbuster IP. Besides a callback to Arnie's famous 'if it bleeds we can kill it' line, it's remarkably unbeholden to the movies that preceded it. It makes the Predator feel special again—not just another recognisable character wheeled out from the vault to shift Funko Pops. For most of the film it's cloaked, silhouetted, or draped in shadow, which is much more effective than seeing it. Recent Alien movies show far too much of the xenomorph, which is another thing future sequels could learn from Prey. A brief glimpse of a slavering jaw in Alien is infinitely scarier than the CG creature we saw crawling around in Covenant.
Prey also understands that there's power in resisting the urge to explain absolutely everything. In Alien, the crew of the Nostromo have no idea where the xenomorph came from or why there was a derelict ship full of eggs crashed on a remote moon in deep space. There are a few lines of speculation, but in general they're too busy trying not to die to dwell on it. Similarly, Prey devotes no time to where the Predator came from, what it is, or why its technology is so advanced—which is huge for a modern movie based on an established series. Prey lets you fill in the blanks yourself, and that's something Alien needs to return to. Not knowing is always more impactful than knowing, especially when it comes to horror.
With Prometheus and Covenant, Ridley Scott kept making Alien bigger. He expanded its mythology outwards—in both space and time. He tossed in religious symbolism and explored the fundamental nature of existence itself. Fair enough. Occasionally he did it brilliantly. But it's wild to think that all of this originated with a very basic story about a giant killer penis chasing people down dark spaceship corridors. At this point, Alien has expanded enough. We know too much. It's time to get back to telling smaller, more human stories in this universe. Stories of survival that don't tie into sinister corporate conspiracies or the origins of humanity. As Prey proves so brilliantly, sometimes a scary monster is all you need.
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