Sunday, June 4, 2017

Alien Week, part VI: The war of the worlds


Oh, right: this is the one that really pissed everyone off.  As well it should have, for Requiem isn't just the nadir of this franchise; it's perilously close to being the nadir of 21st century filmmaking, period.  Truly, it is inept in ways you've never seen before, will never see again, and—not to put too fine a point on it—it's inept in ways you don't even see at all.  What a calamity this film is.

Directed by Colin Strause and Greg Strause
Written by Shane Salerno
With Johnny Lewis (Ricky), Steven Pasquale (Dallas), Kristen Hager (Jesse), Reiko Aylesworth (Kelly), Ian Whyte ("Wolf"), and Tom Woodruff, Jr. (the Predalien)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Okay, obviously, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem is just direly misconceived, even beyond the "present-day prequel set in Antarctica" miscalculation of its immediate predecessor.  AVP embraced a stupidly unnecessary method of binding the Alien and Predator franchises together, but it can be defended—it basically worked, and it didn't really get in the way of anything.  Requiem, though, while maintaining the "present-day prequel" part of AVP's equation, doubles right the fuck down on it, and if it's difficult to imagine any worse setting for an Alien film than Main Street, USA, it's totally impossible to imagine a lazier one.

And yet it's still not the reason that Requiem's bad.  And rest assured: this one is not a revisionist review, because Requiem is very bad, as anyone who's seen it can attest.  (It's earned a 4.7/10 on IMDB, and, going by that site's standards, that actually translates to something more like a -2.)  The reason Requiem is bad isn't its title, either, though its title is indeed extremely bad: I'm not sure I've ever run afoul of a sequel subtitle more meaningless, nor so suggestive of the possibility that nobody involved in the film's marketing even knew what a word meant.  Frankly, they probably didn't.  Nobody involved in Requiem appears to have known anything about anything, especially anything about making a movie.

For now, though, let's try to figure out how we even got from AVP's Point A to Requiem's painfully dumb Point B.  You no doubt recall that AVP ended with a xenomorph-Predator hybrid leaping out of the fallen Predator hero's chest.  (You may also remember that, at the time, I thought this was kinda neat, in an irreverent, anything-goes sort of way—because, at the time, I did not know that it would form the backbone of its follow-up's plot.)  Well, once the Predalien gets loose, it causes all manner of mayhem aboard the Predators' starship, causing it to crash in Gunnison, Colorado.  The Predators die; the mutant xenomorph does not, nor do the facehuggers the Predators had on board, who promptly seize upon a father and son while they're out shooting at their food.  Next thing you know, Gunnison's riddled with monsters.

But the Predators have sent one of their own, a cleaner called "Wolf" in the credits (because evidently Pulp Fiction was still something worth riffing on, in 2007).  Wolf intends to deal with Gunnison's xenomorph plague, apparently by killing them one at a time.  (The humans will turn out to have a vastly more efficient solution to Gunnison's Alien woes.  Of course, there is not a solitary moment where Requiem possesses the self-reflection to try and contrast the Predators' lighter touch with humanity's immediate resort to the Ripley-Hicks Option, so all you're left with is a big old plot hole to begin the movie: why don't the advanced extraterrestrials, who clearly possess the capability, just nuke the site from orbit themselves?)

In the interim, though, there still remains a town full of meat to impregnate and/or kill.  It would be a lie to say that any of them are important, but as we careen back and forth between a legion of human characters, the one we return to most often is our teen loser protagonist, Ricky, who spends his days pining after the local hot rich girl, Jesse.  Unfortunately, his attempts at sparking any sort of romance are met with beatings from her boyfriend, a fellow resembling no one so much as a roided-out Freddie from Scooby Doo.

If this dynamic was already manifestly unacceptable, then the actors who perform it are uniformly terrible, and Requiem's screenwriter, Shane Salerno, proves himself uniquely unable to even put palatable placeholder dialogue into their mouths.  And this is probably why this entire plot occupies only ten or so minutes of screentime before the xenomorphs swarm through the town, merrily killing everyone they can get their claws on.  Ultimately, the town is whittled down to our core cast of refugees, including Ricky, Jesse, Ricky's brother, Dallas (terrible, but at least he's not named "Ripley"), Gunnison's sheriff, Eddie, and, finally, Kelly, the military woman whose husband was killed by one of the invaders, and who barely made it out with her daughter, Molly.  Who will live, who will die, and could you conceivably care?

You will, in fact, probably not even be able to keep track.  Now we get down to the brass tacks of Requiem's failure: Requiem is one of the worst-directed studio films of all time.  As a cash-in to a semi-successful B-movie, one's surprised that Fox felt comfortable dumping it in the virgin laps of Colin and Greg Strause, a pair of special effects artists who had previously vied for AVP, and lost out to Paul W.S. Anderson.  (And whether you enjoy PWSA, or despise him, one thing Requiem will do is make you realize how essentially proficient his direction on AVP was.)

The Strauses have done nothing of note since, discounting the existence of a feature-length commercial for their SFX house, 2010's Skyline.  The genesis of that movie is certainly off-putting; yet I find it hard to believe it could possibly be any worse than their debut.  Why, it couldn't be, because they do nothing well here.  The editing, we've already alluded to a bit in our plot summary, but Requiem is defined by some gruesomely mindless cross-cutting, along with a basic inability to string shots in a conversation together in a way that makes emotional or, sometimes, even logical sense.  Beyond that, the Strauses evidently had virtually no idea how to use a film frame, let alone a CinemaScope frame—and, yes, a lot of people don't know how to use a 'Scope frame, but even lousy mumblecore directors still usually manage to put their actors inside it.  There's a fair amount in Requiem that's so-bad-it's-hilarious, but the funniest thing about it, for my money, is the Strauses' treatment of the subplot revolving around Kelly's kid (an anemic-unto-death recapitulation of Ripley's Newt arc from Aliens, in case that needed to be mentioned).  Essentially, they spend the entire third act of their film forgetting that there's a child on their set.  Even when the dialogue explicitly mentions her, she is almost never visible in any given group shot, nor do they find it necessary to drop insert shots of the child actor in to compensate.  It is fascinatingly bad: it's like the entire cast is talking about an invisible friend, and I laughed and laughed at the humiliation suffered by Kelly's performer, Reiko Aylesworth, as we often see her looking down and speaking comforting words to a person who was presumably standing there next to her, but might as well not have existed.

But as amusing as all this is, it really is just run-of-the-mill bad moviemaking.  It's not the kind of crap you'd ever expect to see in a movie made in 2007, yet you can at least understand how it happened: inexperience and shiftlessness.  What is not explicable, however, and what brings Requiem down from "crap" to "one of the worst movies ever," is its lighting—that is, its absence.

The inexplicable part is that the Strauses' managed to get a certain Daniel Pearl to serve as their cinematographer.  Pearl is a real and competent DP, who'd recently lensed The Texas Chainsaw remake, a frankly great-looking movie, and as far away from the original as possible, too, which he also lensed.  In other words, Pearl helped codify two wholly different kinds of horror aesthetic: the grimy verite of one massacre, and, thirty years later, the sweaty, oversaturated style of another, such as would typify Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes' horror productions throughout the Aughts and early Tens.  (Pearl also shot Bay's "I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" video, which is gaudy and horrible, but involves Meat Loaf, and is therefore excellent.)

Here, though, you wonder what Pearl was even doing.  Had he gotten it into his head to invent yet a third horror movie aesthetic?  If so, was he up to some kind of crazy experiment in underlighting—how much is too much? (this much is too much)—while exploiting the untested Strauses as a pair of dupes?  Or did the Strauses, convinced that "darkness is scary," impose their vision upon poor Pearl, forcing him to shoot everything in high contrast and in shadow, including scenes that take place in broad daylight, on the fucking street?  Frankly, it doesn't even matter: once night comes, it is, as Bill Paxton famously observed, truly game over, and something like 50-60% of Requiem is as completely unreadable as it would be if Pearl had filmed it all from behind a lenscap.  Requiem answers the question nobody could have ever thought to ask:  "What would an Alien movie be like if it were a radio play written by a moron and read by talentless nobodies?"  Not The Mercury Theater On the Air, to say the least.

The story problems barely even register when the film's already nine-tenths black pixels, and yet its story probably didn't have to suck as badly as it winds up doing.  The scenario Requiem trots out is, of course, kind of awful.  But it is a recognizable thing, and Requiem's idea of doing an Alien film as a straight-up 80s slasher does retain a slight (if perverse) sort of appeal.  Alien, remember, was already a slasher film in outer space; that the genius of Alien is almost entirely bound up with being set in outer space means that Requiem was always going to compare unfavorably, but one can abide a movie worse than Alien, and transplanting its monsters to a suburban setting seems like it might at least be interesting.  (What's that?  Isn't Requiem supposed to be about a Predator, too?  Blame Salerno: for if Requiem is a deeply unsatisfactory Alien film, it's barely a Predator film at all, content to have its other top-billed monster doing nothing but aimlessly wandering around, and often forgetting why he's even there in the first place.)  Either way, though, Requiem is surely nothing new under Pearl's dimming, dying sun: for this experiment was already run, several times, back in the 1980s themselves.

The results, I daresay, are rather well-known: Joe Dante called it Gremlins, and turned it into a comedy; Chuck Russell called it The Blob, and played it as straight as an 80s sci-fi horror movie was ever likely to get.  The latter, especially, is an absolute classic of its form, and there is nothing Requiem resembles more than a mind-blowingly shitty rip-off of Russell's movie, one barely capable of doing the slightest thing that ever made Russell's Blob remake a worthwhile venture, whether that was its efficient and agreeable characterization, or its loving gore effects, or even its seemingly-simple ability to just tell a story.  Meanwhile, the one aspect of The Blob that Requiem manages to rip off half-effectively winds up not mattering so much without all the others; even so, credit Requiem for being able to surprise you, now and then, by killing off a character who ought to be "safe."  It indulges in utter tastelessness to get there, of course—for much was made of Requiem's return to the hard-R roots of the series, in opposition to AVP's PG-13.  Thus does it go about its business: killing a kid with a chest-burster; implying the xenomorphs eat a maternity ward full of babies; changing the Alien life cycle so that it vomits eggs down its victims' throats, that soon issue forth from their pregnant-looking bellies; and, indeed, savagely executing Ricky's would-be girlfriend with a giant shuriken that just so happens to be flying down a hallway.  (And this last bit, I must concede, is one cool moment in a movie that offers almost none.)

Yet it's hard to care about that hard-R when Requiem, for all it eschews tact, nevertheless refuses to commit to the vulgarity its approach requires: that kid doesn't die on camera; the babies are, as noted, only implied to be eaten; even the goriest scenes tend not to be lingered upon.  When Requiem crosses the line, it does it bereft of a good slasher film's boldness.  Let us close by considering Jesse in her sexy poolside striptease: is there anything worth admiring in a film that can showcase a male gaze this aggressive, yet can't so much as muster the gumption to show some tits?

Requiem, in the end, offers up the worst of both its worlds: it is incredibly, irredeemably trashy, yet with nothing to show for it anyway—even if you could see it in the first place.

Score: 1/10


  1. This review was briliant Ide! Wow. You've gotten good at these. You should be in syndication.

    1. Thanks, Tim! Always nice to hear from you, old friend.