foreigner 3 doesn’t waste time letting you know what it is. Sure, the teaser trailer was notoriously misleading, with an Earth-centric sell suggesting that 20th Century Fox’s marketing department either misunderstood what the film was about or made their own mercenary best guess based on what they hoped for from the filmmakers. But as the film itself begins, it’s pretty clear what director David Fincher has delivered, despite the rewrites, studio demands, and collapsed schedules that have muddled his production. Fear and foreboding ooze from the jump as the opening credits are cut short with snippets of the impending cataclysm on the ship holding the three cryo-slumbering survivors Foreigner. tentacles unfold. glass breaks. acid drops burn. Fires blaze and the utterly satisfying resolution of the previous film burns away. When the ship crashes on a prison planet, only Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is left alive. Hicks, the android Bishop and, most heartbreakingly, Ripley’s surrogate daughter Newt are all gone.
When I saw that opening at the age of eleven, it felt like I was receiving a transmission from a darker, more ominous place; The previous movie I saw in the cinema before my dad took me foreigner 3 was FernGully: The Last Rainforest. For longtime fans of the horror classic-turned-franchise, undoing the previous film’s wins – ticking characters off a list while ticking off audiences at the same time – felt cruel. Despite Fincher’s subsequent reputation as a purveyor of desolation, this cruelty probably cannot be attributed to him; foreigner 3 went through a multitude of concepts, drafts and tinkering during its lengthy development, reportedly stitching together a number of ideas into the fussed-yet-rushed final film. By most accounts, Fincher did not introduce Newt and Hicks (Bishop returns shortly and grimly later in the film) in eleventh hour.
Nor is it ultimately the problem with foreigner 3. It is not fun knowing that Hicks and Newt are gone, but Fincher’s film takes the series back to its horror roots and introduces an intriguing dynamic that would be impossible with more recurring characters in the picture. Ripley finds himself on a prison planet in the midst of a group of male convicts transformed into a monastic order, working in relative isolation toward redemption. The group is put to the test by Ripley’s unwanted passenger: another respawn of the alien creature, this time in a prisoner’s pet. (Fincher, always the crowd pleaser, interrupts a young girl’s autopsy with a dog’s bloodthirsty death.) The makeshift foxhole companionship of Foreigner was replaced with something more sullen and hopeless.
This hopelessness is also what makes foreigner 3 so memorable, both as a visual experience and as the final but not final chapter in Ripley’s sad tale. Though it has the reputation of a failed rehearsal for Fincher (including from Fincher himself, who disowned it), the mushy despair, full of fog, dirt, and monochromatic shadows, isn’t all that different from Se7en, a film whose existential desperation has more than a touch of stylized slasher extremity. As dejected as the film is — Ripley can’t even have a temporary sex partner without revealing a haunting past and then quickly having his skull pierced by an alien — there’s also a sort of theatrical, Terry Gilliam-esque grotesqueness about its cast of convicted men, most of whom speak with a rich British accent. Even better: Charles S. Dutton, imperious and electric as a kind of particularly vocal spiritual leader who becomes one of Ripley’s strongest allies when she faces difficult decisions.
From where foreigner 3 falling a bit from its near-perfect predecessors is in more mundane areas: its extended climax, where Ripley and the captives lead the alien on a long, tortuous, and surprisingly convoluted chase through a series of corridors in hopes of capturing him and killing is a bit sloppy. The film has more atmosphere than spectacle, and despite a few neat tricks – tortuous POV shots, the low-angle shots Fincher uses throughout the film – the direction doesn’t quite match the drum-hard tension of Ridley Scott and James Cameron.
The film could even be described as fizzled out were it not for an ending as memorable as its unnerving beginning: Ripley is impregnated with an alien queen who wants to remove and “study” (read: use as a biological weapon). decides to swan jump into molten metal, killing himself and the creature. This resolution is both impressive in its committed bleakness and important for the future of the series, because of course it wasn’t the end of Ripley or the Xenomorph after all foreigner 3 taking a Ripley-worthy tumble at the box office after its strong opening. Both returned for five years later Alien Resurrection, which fares even worse with critics, fans, and general audiences. The creatures had an extended afterlife and appeared in a few other movies.resurrection.
That makes foreigner 3 an unlikely turning point. That extraterrestrial Cycle reached its third entry well before tangentially related series such as terminator (with whom it once shared a director) and predator (with whom it shared screen twice) attempted to turn sci-fi horror icons into long-lived series, seemingly against the will of audiences everywhere – a pioneer in not reclaiming the blockbuster’s glory years. It also established a revolving door of directors Impossible Mission, which show how sequels could somehow serve as unlikely expressions of writers and tendrils of an immortal franchise. Even if Fincher’s vision was compromised, it was unmistakably the work of a different filmmaking team than extraterrestrial or Foreigner— and one that audiences wouldn’t take to the same way, just as they wouldn’t care much for Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien Resurrection.
This obviously doesn’t seem to be a big problem for foreigner 3; It seems pretty content, if not killing the series outright, at least leaving behind some major obstacles to its return. It’s the rare sequel with a palpable death drive. Yet neither Ripley’s on-screen death, nor the film’s reception itself, actually managed to kill this alien. Instead, the series entered a bizarre purgatory; nothing else seemed to draw the general public back into its grasp. After the Jeunet debacle (glory in its own way, to put it bluntly), the franchise went into a tailspin – with the comic-inspired ones Alien VS Predator– then aimed high and recruited Ridley Scott to revisit his masterpiece. The (very good) prequel Prometheus was a hit but not popular, and its (very good) sequel Alien: Covenant made deals that matched the fan-only oddities of Fincher and Jeunet.
No doubt there will be more extraterrestrial movies. don’t breathe Director Fede Álvarez is working on one. But it’s heartening to think that when Neill Blomkamp proposed a follow-up that sounded nakedly fan-advertised, it included a direct sequel to it Foreigner that would ignore everything else, it kind of fell apart (although it sounded like basically any recent legacy sequel pitch). There are probably a number of tedious business reasons why this happened, but I like to think that there is foreigner 3, in true Facehugger fashion, implanted itself into the series and played around with its DNA. Maybe it wasn’t foreigner 3 refueling the series. Maybe it was Fincher and all those patched-up scripts that meddled at the heart of the series: Arming yourself to face our gnarliest, rawest fears won’t banish them from our lives.
Jesse Hassenger writes about movies and other pop culture matters for a number of outlets including The AV Club, Polygon, The Week, NME and SportsAlcohol.com, where he also has a podcast. Following @rockmarooned on Twitter is a great way to find out what they’re seeing, hearing, or eating.