The Short View – Alien: Containment (2019) / Alien: Specimen (2019)

I love this.

Say what you will about the now defunct 20th Century Fox and their past treatment of the Alien franchise; but the way they’ve chosen to celebrate the 40th anniversary of 1979’s Alien deserves much praise.

For those wondering how on earth they’ve missed two new Alien feature films, I actually speak of six short films, selected from 550 pitches, and all designed as a loving tribute to a sci-fi universe that has defined horror for a generation. After all, short films are an art unto themselves, allowing filmmakers to tell minuscule stories that (somewhat ironically) make the world much bigger. It’s a shame that more movie franchises don’t approach their slices of pop culture in the same way. (Looking at you Marvel!)

With one short being released online every week, I thought I’d save some time by “doubling up.” So, without further ado…

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Synopsis:
Four survivors find themselves stranded aboard a small escape pod in deep space. Trying to piece together the details around the outbreak that led to their ship’s destruction, they find themselves unsure to trust whether or not one of them might be infected.

Running Time:
10 minutes

Directed and Written by: 
Chris Reading

Alien specimen

Synopsis:
It’s the night shift in a colony greenhouse, and Julie (Jolene Anderson), a botanist, does her best to contain suspicious soil samples that have triggered her sensitive lab dog. Despite her best efforts the lab unexpectedly goes into full shutdown and she is trapped inside.

Running Time:
10 minutes

Directed by: 
Kelsey Taylor

Written by:
Frederico Fracchia


Of the two shorts, Containment is the one that is (slightly) more epic in scope. Much like 1984’s The Terminator, the opening and close of said short is a masterclass in using a minimal budget to portray a CGI-infused landscape. And like the aforementioned sci-fi titan, the bulk of the short is a stripped-down character piece that doesn’t hold back on relentless splashes of claret.

But such similarities also end up being Containment’s downfall. Not in comparison to The Terminator, of course; but rather the original Alien. If you were to boil said feature film down to its component parts, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark if you came up with the following: Infected Human + Psycho Scientist = Flesh Eating Monster vs The Final Girl. Containment, unfortunately, is basically the same thing in a 10 minute chunk.

That’s not to say there aren’t some positive aspects to this low-budget facsimile, with Sharon Duncan Brewster as the scientist Albrecht, giving an incredibly complex performance in the vein of Ian Holm’s Ash. The short also toys with the idea of mystery, refusing to give away exactly which of the foursome is the doomed carrier. It’s only a shame the building of that central mystery is nonexistent, essentially being answered literally moments after being introduced.

Specimen, on the other hand, eschews the specific repetition of the Alien installments and instead is a much broader depiction of girl vs monster. And for that approach it ends up being a stronger piece of filmmaking. Such superiority is most dazzlingly shown by the incredible sound design work done by Eric Wegener. Mixed with the strong cinematography from Adam Lee; and you have a product that oozes the same spine-chilling atmosphere from Alien. It’s even more commendable that, in spite of its short running time, Specimen does contribute something very unique to the Alien domain (which I won’t spoil here).

Overall, it’s hard not to admit that “ground-breaking” is not a particularly good descriptor for Containment and Specimen’s approach to the Alien franchise. But it’s still great to see what first-time and aspiring filmmakers can do when given the chance to play in such a classic universe.

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