There was no way that Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem could possibly be as bad as the first Alien vs. Predator. Not only was Paul W.S. Anderson out of the picture, the psychotic mythology about adolescent predator aliens (of the classic Predator and the not-classic Predator 2) hunting slimy black aliens (of the increasingly debased Alien series) in a giant Antarctic pyramid had been jettisoned in favor of throwing some aliens at Small Town, USA, and loosing the predators to mow them down. It would be rated R again, not the fainting-couch niceness of the PG-13 that kept AVP from the elaborate gore that has been a mainstay of both franchises since their origins. And most importantly, Paul W.S. Anderson was out of the picture.

No sir, a worse AVP film than the first one just couldn't be made. Except that, impossibly, it has. Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem is unmitigated trash in almost every way.

The new film starts approximately four seconds before the last film ended, so as to remind us that a predator-alien hybrid has just been born. For a couple minutes, it's merely dreary and not unspeakably foul, as we follow a few predators around their nondescript ship, trying to hunt the beast before it kills them all and crashes their ship, along with its cargo of those crab-shaped alien things that plant their spawn in your belly. The ship lands in the mountains outside Gunnison, Colorado, British Columbia, where scenes of the two species slithering around in the sewers are intercut with selections from the local community college production of Peyton Place.

Seriously, I understand that crappy horror movies need big casts of quickly-defined characters, but it's been a lot of years since there has been a film with such a very large cast, so full of people that I can't quite distinguish from one another. Mostly, it's only possible to define characters in terms of their interrelationships: the girl whose ex-boyfriend beat up the nerd whose brother is friends with the cop who is trying to comfort the woman whose husband and boy are missing. Only one character, the closest we get to a protagonist, really sticks out in my mind, and that is because he is named "Dallas" in an ill-advised reference to the Ridley Scott movie. Also, he is played by Steven Pasquale, and must therefore pass as the film's "name" actor. Otherwise, it's strictly a panoply of day-players and TV character actors.

In a film bursting with conspicuous flaws, the most obvious is that we are stuck watching an endlessly unappealing series of minidramas, primarily the sub-sub-sub-One Tree Hill tale of pretty Jesse (Kristen Hager) and pretty Ricky (Johnny Lewis) who has a not-secret crush on her. The film isn't a slasher, but its lockstep adherence to the teen soap formula makes it very easy to think that it wants to be. I suppose writer Shane Salerno (who, at the tender age of 25, got his big break as one of the five authors of Armageddon) had it in his head that all this would make us feel more when the characters start to die explosively bloody deaths, or more likely he knew that the promise of sex amongst twenty-something teenagers keeps asses in theater seats. Instead, it's a perfunctory distraction from the main event.

Or is it? I have to give AVPR some credit: it's the first horror film I can recall where all during the rote "personal drama" shit I was bored out of my skull and longing for the stalking and carnage, and all during the carnage, I was longing for the personal drama. This is in part because of first-time directors and long-time visual effects artists Colin and Greg Strause (credited, annoyingly, as "The Brothers Strause"), who apparently can't do anything right. There are, by my count, two moments in the whole damn movie that work on a level within swiping distance of what we came for: first, we watch as the predator (Ian Whyte) dispatched to hunt the aliens on Earth, rigs a sewer with trip-wires. Laser trip-wires. Trip-lasers? Anyhow, it's an intriguing little minute or so that concentrates on method and process, and does more to explore the life of the predators than the rest of this movie and its immediate precursor combined. The second good moment is a pair of shots of the predator walking on a metal walkway, as an alien crawls underneath the walkway, directly below the predator. It's not exactly tense, but it possesses a certain pregnant idea of tension.

Other than that, it's all flat as a pancake, without any tension or good scares, without any gore of even the slightest creativity beyond, "the kids like gore, right?" and all of it underlit. Although maybe I shouldn't say that: cinematographer Daniel C. Pearl smuggles in quite a few shots that have their own individual beauty as abstract images, and that gives you something nice to look at, even though by and large, the film's look and the film's narrative don't go much hand-in-hand.

The most irritating thing is that AVPR does something that should be very right, and that people like me have been bitching about for decades: it takes no prisoners. There aren't any "safe" characters, from the moment that a little boy gets taken down by an alien face-hugger, right to the moment that a character with a seeming "get out of death free" card is pinned to the wall by a very big blade. But without a steady hand to guide it, it's just unpleasant instead of terrifying. What do I mean by steady hand? Consider that the first Alien, much like the present film, is full of basically anonymous characters who do practically nothing of interest other than get killed. That film is a masterpiece because of Ridley Scott's incredible use of space and lighting to create mood. The Brothers Strause have no aesthetic: they parade monster effects that, all these decades later, no longer seem that fresh anymore, and make everything very shiny. There's no plot, no atmosphere, no tension: just a series of glamor shots made to keep a couple of franchises out of mothballs.

Reviews in this series
Alien (Scott, 1979)
Aliens (Cameron, 1986)
Predator (McTiernan, 1987)
AlienΒ³ (Fincher, 1992)
Alien Resurrection (Jeunet, 1997)
Alien vs. Predator (Anderson, 2004)
Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (The Brothers Strause, 2007)
Predators (Antal, 2010)
Prometheus (Scott, 2012)
Alien: Covenant (Scott, 2017)
The Predator (Black, 2018)

Other films in this series, yet to be reviewed
Predator 2 (Hopkins, 1990)