Alien 3

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A flurry of images greet us as Alien3 opens, telling a story. The Sulaco traveling through space, an open xenomorph egg, Ripley in her cryo-tube, a facehugger extending its fingers, acid and fire, computers flashing warning signs. Finally, the cryo-tubes are ejected, crash-landing on Fury 161 like brimstone. The planet’s residents, prisoners who have converted to a form of fundamentalist Christianity, discover Ripley, slick with grime and sweat as if she crawled from a pit. Her arrival, and the horror she inadvertently brings, coincides with a sunset that seemingly lasts to the film’s closing moments. While far from the Earth-bound showdown 20th Century Fox promised in the earliest teasers, David Fincher’s installment in the Alien saga is easily the most apocalyptic.

Fittingly, the new xenomorph–a hyper-aggressive queen guard occasionally referred to as a “dragon”–takes on a more satanic role. It stalks in the tetanus-infested holes and the hellish-orange tunnels beneath the prison facility, eager to shred and mangle. Rather than the swarming insects of Aliens, it is a figure of death, implacable. Ripley, then, is the flip side of the coin: life, struggling in the face of annihilation. Her fellow survivors Newt, Hicks, and Bishop are dispatched in the opening credits, leaving her to grieve and carry the weight of the alien’s existence. Their fates are intertwined. The inmate-monks who have taken Ripley in become equally fascinated and terrified, blaming her presence for both the alien and their own rapist impulses stirring again. Their leader, Dillon (Charles S. Dutton), is at best tepid towards her, more concerned with his shrinking flock.

Alien3 becomes as much Dillon’s (and his followers’) film as it does Ripley’s. Shaven-headed, largely British and indistinguishable, their brotherhood is uneasy, bound in their shared isolation and distrust of outsiders. They’re prone to violent fits and regression. After thwarting a gang-rape, Dillon talks of “re-educat[ing] the brothers” with a pipe. By contrast to this shaky order, Fincher and Sigourney Weaver portray Ripley as mythic, a destroyer of monsters looking for an end to her seemingly eternal struggle. Even when she discovers a Queen gestating inside her, she never wavers, never chooses to save her own skin. Her values are etched in stone. It’s on Fury 161’s populace to grow, casting off isolationism and throwing down their lives to stop the demon coming for them.

Gone Girl

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The most horrifying thing about Gone Girl isn’t the crimes or misdeeds of any individual, but a cumulative, societal effort to suppress the truth. David Fincher applies his love of the procedural to Gillian Flynn’s script, depicting a missing persons case, the resulting media circus, and its exponential growth of lies, half-truths, and speculation. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) comes home and finds his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing, signs of a struggle. The local PD arrive, sticky-noting evidence, a narrative forming in their mind. This, in Gone Girl, is how the horror starts. Clues suggest, neat but not too neat, Nick may have offed Amy. Within a week, according to the film’s time stamps, a Nancy Grace lookalike is diagnosing Nick with sociopathy and inferring an incestuous relationship with his sister, among other antics.

Almost everyone in the film is a liar. Amy’s parents appear with Nick for a press conference, but their concern masks crass exploitation–promoting their pseudo-biographical book series within the tears. Nick’s lawyer teaches him how to be sympathetic. Amy’s ex creeps around the edges of the plot, motives shrouded in Nice Guy-isms. Narration from Amy suggests anger at her circumstances, either her lifetime of being compared to a fictional counterpart or conforming to the Hot Cool Girl men fantasize about. Nick wants to be everyone’s best friend, smiling next to Amy’s picture during the conference. He’s pegged as a phoney. Though the couple manipulate everyone around them, they resent acting the parts everyone expects of them, as man and woman, husband and wife. Ironically, they key in to those roles, using the news as entertainment cycle to sell themselves. When one narrative collapses, they simply adjust, even if they have to get bloody. In the land of liars and opportunists, it’s the only way to survive.