New Films: The Big Picture - The mother of all monsters

Science-fiction or horror films are doomed never to be taken seriously enough, except by people who wear outsized wind-cheaters and talk to themselves a lot, but the first two alien movies were unusual in gaining serious respect. It may be that Alien Resurrection, the fourth in the series, is the first to truly challenge the codes of its chosen genre, rather than simply adhere to them. Nothing has changed in the construction, but there's something primal and unsettling at the heart of the movie that goes beyond simple frights.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who co-directed Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children, has brought a generous assembly of former collaborators with him to the production: the director of photography Darius Khondji, who has a Goya-by-flashlight style: the French special-effect team Potif: and two distinctive actors, Dominique Pinon, who looks like a warthog, and Ron Perlman, who looks like a warthog gurning. Jeunet's predilection for tight close-ups of actors with faces as pitted and potmarked as a rugby pitch makes it a close call as to whom look the more grisly: the aliens or the supporting cast.

Jeunet's slightly mad-cap style is evident but not over-bearing. He has the camera rush away from an on-coming grenade or thunder along a corridor as though an imitation of the aliens' grappling tarantula-like motion. At one point, he dares to send the camera deep into the throat of a screaming man, though this old gag has a nasty new twist - on our way down, we almost headbutt an infant parasite that's in the process of making its excuses and leaving its host. What strikes you most about Alien Resurrection is how freely it adopts the perspective of the creatures that we have previously been encouraged to fear. A horror film that asks its audience to see things through the monster's eyes is clearly committed to doing something deeper than just giving you a scare.

The aliens are still predators, but now they're closer to home: the heroine, Ripley (Signourney Weaver), is one of them. She plunged into a furnace at the end of the last episode, but now she has been cloned to create a new Ripley whose DNA has human and alien strands plated together (and who is born complete with painted nails). The side-effects? Super-human strength. Acid blood. And an even more acid sense of humour. Weaver has been allowed to reinvent Ripley since, technically, she's no longer the same character. And the actress now seems looser and more sensual than ever. Ripley doesn't fear the aliens because she knows they won't harm her. She's family. What's the worst they can do? Not invite her over for Christmas dinner?

When the character with whom we are suppose to empathise is no longer in danger, then what position exactly is she in? The answer provides the key to the picture's visceral kick. Where Rosemary's Baby captured the paranoia of pregnancy, Alien Resurrection goes someway towards suggesting the trauma of abortion. In the film's opening scene, Ripley is undergoing surgery to have a squealing baby alien removed from her body. She has been cloned in order that she might spawn such creatures for scientific consumption, a process which provides a minor variation on the methods of the veal industry. Josh Whedon's script goes on to assert Ripley's maternal instincts. When the savage cry of an alien echoes through the spaceship's catacombs, Ripley tilts her head and listens proudly.

"That's my baby," she purrs.

The picture pursues this theme with striking and disturbing clarity. In one of its most upsetting scenes, Ripley chances upon a laboratory where previous clones of her DNA stand pickled in jars. This collection of botched fusions between human and alien might be the workshop of Jake and Dinos Chapman: two mouths, both twisted into silent screams, erupt from the same face: an aliens' slick cockroach shell juts from a human body like an insect shedding its coat. There's also a Ripley clone that's still alive, a gnarled wreckage of scales and armpits and tentacles which recalls the pig-man hybrid from O Lucky Man. Weaver lets you see Ripley paralysed by grief as she surveys this grotesque gallery of other Ripleys that might have been. A male crew member is flummoxed by her distress.

"Must be a chick thing," he decides.

The alien movies have been praised for allowing female characters to continually take the initiative. But the series hasn't come close to delivering anything like the emotional punch of the sequence that ends Alien Resurrection. The most visionary design is left until last: a new-born alien that resembles a cross between a gargoyle and an Alsatian, it is the first generation to profit visibly from the inheritance of human genes. Its long pink tongue laps at Ripley, and lurching inside the deep sockets of its skull are real plaintive human eyes: it thinks she's its mother. That is not a predicament in which action heroines find themselves everyday of the week. Nor is it something that mainstream cinema tends to embrace - a film in which no possible ending can be a happy one.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

    £60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

    Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

    AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

    £600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

    E-Commerce Developer

    £45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

    Day In a Page

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil