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A tame Species movie that exists only to exploit fans
MGM's Species franchise, like Wishmaster and The Crow, is a perfect example of the law of diminishing returns. Roger Donaldson's 1995 hit Species was a stylish, self-consciously trashy homage to B-movies. One that has had its scenario rehashed three times now.
One would expect a low-budget sequel to revel in sleaze and gore, but since 2004, when the concept was resurrected, 6 years after the cinema release of the disastrous Species 2 (1998), for the direct-to-DVD market, there has been a surprising resistance to the gratuitous ingredients of sex and violence. Species 3 paid little more than lip service to the desires of the target audience and the same is true here.
Deviating from the plot line established by the first three films, which featured Natasha Henstridge, The Awakening is a standalone feature that references and reimagines the ideas of the first film. It posits an alternative scenario; what if the scientist played by Sir Ben Kingsley in the original had not kept the young girl like a rat in cage? What if he'd raised her like his own?
This could have made for an intriguing exploration of nature versus nurture. Had Henstridge's Sil been allowed to develop in a more normal way could her dangerous, alien side have been suppressed? Alas there is little such depth to this cheap cash-in.
Kingsley's role is reinterpreted by fellow British thespian Ben Cross, while Swede Helena Mattsson (who looks a bit like Nicole Kidman) takes over where Henstridge and Sunny Mabrey left off. With only four key cast members and no sign of even Michael Madsen, The Awakening is the weakest of exploitation films. Only the audience is being exploited.
A studio like MGM isn't short of cash, so the explanation for the cheapness of this film is clear; they knew they can get away with it and turn an easy profit. Studios like The Asylum have their desperately limited resources to explain their crass and dissatisfactory efforts, but there's simply no excuse for a Species film to be as unspectacular as this.
Feeling more like a cross between a vampire movie and a retelling of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein than a sexy sci-fi movie, Nick Lyon's film merely coasts on tenuous links to its predecessors. There are the HR Giger-inspired creature costumes and the promise of flesh is vaguely satisfied but there's not much effort or imagination. Were it not for a few gratuitous moments and aggressive curse words this could have been made for mainstream TV.
Lyons does well to pay homage to the original film and its subtext but seems to have forgotten how tongue-in-cheek it all was. Species 4 should have taken things to a cartoonish extreme. Instead what could have been knowingly amusing is just po-faced and embarrassing. From Dominic Keating's terrible Aussie accent to the fact that the alien hybrids use their tongues as weapons, at one point they shoot icicle-like spears from their mouths in bullet-time, the experience is one of contradiction.
The original Species really went for it. Utterly shameless titillation. The sequel went further, but in a misjudged, sleazy and misogynistic direction. Perhaps this is why the following two instalments have been so tame. The Awakening, as evidenced by its 15 rating, delivers the bare minimum that one could expect from a film with the Species title. Cautiously exploitative.
Like its heroine, The Awakening is in denial, trying its best not to give in to its primitive instincts. There's the potential for a wild ride in its concept and its plot, but Lyons takes it so seriously that the only laughs come unintentionally. This is a film in which a back alley scientist creates sex-crazed human/alien hybrids that run around Mexico! One of them dresses as demonic nun and leaps between rooftops, lassoing potential prey with its tongue; this is potentially hilarious stuff! But it's stripped bare, like its heroine in the final act, devoid of emotion. This is a film of wasted opportunities.
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