SpeciesSpanishMarlene FavelaMeagen Fay
Species: The Awakening
Medium: film
Year: 2007
Director: Nick Lyon
Writer: Ben Ripley
Keywords: Species, horror, SF, boobs
Country: USA
Language: English, Spanish [a little bit]
Actor: Edy Arellano, Helena Mattsson, Marco Bacuzzi, Ben Cross, Roger Cudney, Marlene Favela, Meagen Fay, Cynthia Francesconi, Dominic Keating, Mauricio Martinez
Format: 103 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0844894/
Website category: Horror modern
Review date: 8 August 2012
Not bad at all, actually. I might go so far as to call it the best entry in the series, despite being a straight-to-video movie for the Sci-Fi Channel.
There are rules for this franchise and it follows them. A Species film in a cinema (1 or 2) will have famous stars (Henstridge, Madsen, etc.) and be action-packed and stupid, with the aliens being indestructible killing machines that you'd expect to eliminate the human race. These straight-to-video sequels (3 or 4) though are different. They're thoughtful and more low-key, with a common scriptwriter. They'll also star actors I've never heard of and take the franchise in interesting new directions, weakening the aliens to the point where they're practically dependent on their human keepers' mercy.
I like this. The storyline this time is about Helena Mattsson, a brilliant and stunningly beautiful scientist who lives with her uncle (Ben Cross) and is getting begging letters from Oxford University. She's also an alien who thinks she's human. This is odd and suggestive. How has someone so intelligent failed to notice anything different in her own biology? Why isn't she fast-growing? Didn't she have a chrysalis stage? Why isn't she aggressive?
Well, bad things start happening and soon Cross is taking Mattsson south to Mexico. (The movie did most of its shooting there, so we have Spanish being spoken and hot Mexican actresses.) Apparently Cross used to be the colleague of another scientist (Dominic Keating), who had access to the same original SETI data but has been finding more creative uses for it than Ben Kingsley. Some of these are surprising. It seems he can custom-design these hybrids so well that he's finding commercial uses for them.
Occasionally something goes wrong, but apparently that's okay. "The mistakes die off in a month or two."
This is strong. It's the most interesting Species script so far, by miles. Admittedly the final film isn't the most exciting you'll ever see, but it's certainly got more oomph than last time. There's drama. There's an interesting role for Keating, who's a sexist pig who creates monsters for exploitation and arguably deserves to die... yet he'd agree with that assessment and would seem to have a death wish. There's a shockingly dark story beat in which a sympathetic character does a terrible thing and everything goes wrong in ways he hadn't anticipated.
It also helps that at last they've kicked aside the expected plot template, with Mattsson not having to grow up from childhood, etc. Species III felt a bit shackled, whereas this is doing its own thing.
Of all unexpected things, the acting is decent! Helena Mattsson is doing her job, which is a shock for the lead alien in a Species film. She's gorgeous and she's gets her tits out, yes, but she's got a bit of life to her, and she's doing far more as an actress than her predecessors. She's Swedish, apparently. Meanwhile the two men are both expatriate Brits with Star Trek connections, curiously. Cross played Sarek in the J.J. Abrams movie, although he's best known for Chariots of Fire, while Keating was a regular in Star Trek: Enterprise. Them I liked too. They're also not just phoning it in, unlike certain people I could mention in earlier instalments. In other words, not only do we have the best script of any Species film, but it's being brought to life by the best and most consistent performances.
I should also mention Mexican actress Marlene Favela. She doesn't get much dialogue, but there are two good reasons to notice her.
One oddity: it feels like a vampire film. You could make this a vampire (or werewolf) story with minimal changes, but it's the religious imagery that had me wondering if Ben Ripley was cut-and-pasting the names in a spec vampire script.
1. The aliens' white contact lenses look very vampire-like.
2. We visit a church.
3. A Bible gets symbolically skewered by an alien spike, in the cause of protecting someone.
4. An alien gets killed by a giant crucifix (ish).
5. Favela attacks Cross while dressed as a killer nun and quotes Genesis 20: "Behold, thou art but a dead man".
No one says the phrase "playing God", but that's what Cross and Keating have been doing. However it still felt a little weird to have religious overtones in an SF action movie franchise that's fundamentally about boobs and aliens.
The only thing I didn't like is that once again they're concentrating on men, despite the fact that you'd expect this franchise to be all about its women. I'm no fan of the original Species, but at least there the power was all with Henstridge. No one could stop her. Men were her toys. That was welcome, but unfortunately all the sequels have moved back towards more man-dominated stories. Admittedly we've also been seeing more nuanced and interesting storylines, but at the cost of being more conventional in Hollywood gender terms.
I don't know if I'd go so far as to recommend this, but it comes closer than any of its predecessors. It's definitely okay. It works and has no serious problems, which is a first. It's still a Species movie, with nudity and Giger-designed alien killing machines, but despite its handicaps it manages to be pretty decent all round. The action's not even trying to get near the first two films, but it's far better than the risible efforts of last time. I'm happy with the dramatic script, the acting and the boobs. (Those are important too.)
Hmmm. I see I prefer the even-numbered Species films.