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Alien: Romulus director Fede Álvarez is the sledgehammer that will bring the franchise back to its nightmares

Alien: Romulus’s choice of director is the franchise’s strongest statement in years.

Alien: Romulus
Image credit: 20th Century Studios

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Alien: Romulus will be pure nightmare fuel. As the long-running film series stretches its limbs into the twenty-first century, it is faced with an existential question: does the heart of fans' interest in this franchise stem from its cerebral ideas, or in the primal sense of terror it invokes? Based on the director chosen for Alien: Romulus, one of the most promising voices in horror filmmaking today, Fede Álvarez, 20th Century Studios seems to believe it is the latter.

For those who aren't familiar, Fede Álvarez is best known as the director of the 2013 Evil Dead remake and the 2016 film Don't Breathe. If the very idea of an Evil Dead remake makes your eyes gloss over, fear not, the film is one of the meanest and goriest studio horror films of all time. Álvarez ditched the campiness of the original Raimi films and floored the fake blood and practical effects pedal. Álvarez's films are built around physical provocation, whether that's making your stomach churn, your breaths go shallow, or your eyes snap shut. He has been successful in making studio horror films that still have a distinctly gnarled signature to them. If you think you've seen it all, you haven't seen an Álvarez movie.

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20th Century Studios's decision to hire a director who so unapologetically loves the squishy splatter of horror violence reflects a desire to reconnect Alien films with their sense of bodily anxiety. While Prometheus had one of the most haunting moments in Alien history, where Noomi Rapace's Dr. Shaw performs an emergency Caesarian section on herself, the film was more interested in investigating the franchise's themes of exploration, discovery, and identity than it was with its scarier, messier bits. Likewise, the enemy picking apart the colonists in Prometheus's sequel, Alien: Covenant, is invisible to them for most of the film. This is a far cry from the disgustingly tangible nature of the xenomorphs in the first Alien film.

Romulus, on the other hand, appears to return back to the horror of confronting an alien interloper violating one's sense of self. The trailer for the film shows Aileen Wu's character, Navarro, shining a medical light that illluminates the silhouette of an alien inside their torso, while a compatriot played by Isabela Merced covers her mouth in shock - a loaded area of the body in Alien lore. When Cailee Spaeny's character, Rain Carradine, holds her hand in front of her face to block out a blinding light, the shadows of her fingers conspicuously form the shape of a facehugger. While Romulus's trailer cannot show us the full horrors that lie ahead, the pieces we can already glean point towards a visceral return to our original body horror nightmares.

A still of Isabela Merced in the trailer for Alien: Romulus.
Image credit: 20th Century Studios

In contrast to the small pool of filmmakers who have made an Alien film - Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher (but don't remind him of it), and Amélie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet - Fede Álvarez is a horror filmmaker through and through. Yes, the first The Terminator is more or less a cyborg slasher film deftly executed by James Cameron, and David Fincher's Zodiac made us terrified of everyone who has a basement in the state of California, but Álvarez's films make Ridley, Cameron, Fincher, and Jeunet's goriest moments look tame, pedestrian even. If you don't believe me, I invite you to watch the climax of Álvarez's Evil Dead. If you have ever wondered what a film would look like if it was shot inside of a half empty jar of marinara sauce, you have the 2013 Evil Dead.

That said, while the existence of gore does not always necessitate fear, Álvarez's use of it reflects his ongoing commitment to exploring the frailty of the human body. And you know what else is built around this same idea? The chestburster scene from the original Alien, which lit the creature emerging from John Hurt's body in all its visceral glory under bright, sterile lights. Until Alien: Romulus releases in theaters, we can only imagine what a maestro like Álvarez is capable of when handed the keys to the Alien franchise. From the looks of his previous work and the Alien: Romulus trailer, we are in store for the gutsiest Alien film yet. Long live the new flesh.

Alien is chest-bursting its way back into pop culture this year, and we couldn't be more excited. Prepare for Alien: Romulus with Popverse's Alien watch order, see the face-hugging first trailer, and find out where Romulus fits into the Alien timeline from star Cailee Spaeny.

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