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
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
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.
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.