Alien: Romulus could be the back-to-basics Alien reboot we’ve all been waiting for

<span>Not you again … Cailee Spaeny in Alien: Romulus.</span><span>Photograph: TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy</span>
Not you again … Cailee Spaeny in Alien: Romulus.Photograph: TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy

It has been so very, very long since we got the chance to really experience a great Alien movie, that it is easy to forget what it actually feels like. The creeping sense of dread, the icky body horror, the fear of the unknown. Of all the horror experiences, nothing quite beats the idea of being stuck in space with something that wants to impregnate you, burst out of your chest and run around murdering all your mates, all the while dripping acid blood and delivering more phallic aggression than the average Andrew Tate video. HR Giger’s nefarious nasties really do feel as if they have stepped out of the seventh layer of hades, yet a succession of poor sequels and over-ambitious spin-offs to Ridley Scott’s original 1979 Alien and its bombastic 1986 sequel Aliens, from James Cameron, have reduced the franchise to just another sci-fi also-ran.

Enter Uruguayan film-maker Fede Alvarez, already the coming man of horror thanks to his effective 2013 Evil Dead remake and 2016’s chilling and suspenseful Don’t Breathe. This week assembled journos were given the chance to catch half an hour or so of intelligently edited footage from the forthcoming Alien: Romulus, as well as a Q&A with the director himself. If it’s anything to go by, Romulus could be the episode to remind us all why we loved these movies in the first place.

Without giving too much away, it’s clear that this is a film that could not be further from the portentous, pretentious prequel movies, Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, with their shared determination to slowly discover all the murky details of the Alien universe that we never really wanted to know about. There is goo, there is slime, there are broken bones and bodies. There are no blimmin’ “Engineers”. It looks like a honed-down take on Alien, dispensing with all the far-flung conspiracy theories about how the xenomorphs first came to be and returning to the sense of airless, cosmic shock and awe that inspired the first two films.

Alvarez revealed that Romulus is set around two decades years after Alien, a timeline that would place it about 40 years before Aliens. The film-maker has already said in other interviews that the new film was inspired by a scene in the extended cut of Cameron’s sequel, in which a group of teenagers can be seen on the LV-426 planetoid prior to the xenomorph infestation. “After Don’t Breathe someone asked me ‘if you could do anything what would it be’ and I said Alien, no doubt. Then I had a kind-of random meeting at [Ridley Scott’s production company] Scott Free in 2017. They asked me, what would you want to see, just as a fan, and I said I would be curious to see what happened to those people in real life, growing up on a mining colony and there’s no future for them.”

Alvarez waxed lyrical about bringing back members of the original Stan Winston team that worked on Alien and Aliens, discussed the use of animatronics and miniatures to create a sense of old-school realism and admitted he wasn’t afraid to get his own hands dirty. “They are super handmade these movies,” he told the audience. “I’m there on the floor puppeteering everything you see there. Every facehugger underwater is me shaking this piece of rubber while holding the camera at the same time.”

The greatest sense from the brief footage screened was that this looks like an Alien movie that cleaves far more closely to horror than sci-fi fantasy. There are androids, naturally, and spaceships galore. But so far there doesn’t seem to be any sense that Alvarez is interested in exploring the “mystery box” veneer that permeated Scott’s later films and the Scott Free-produced TV series Raised By Wolves, which always felt like it might be sneakily set in the same universe as Prometheus and Covenant.

Nor does Romulus feel like a big budget blockbuster wannabe that will fade into insignificance in a few years’ time. Alvarez pointed out that the original Aliens sequel, despite feeling “massive” was shot relatively cheaply with the crew “doing what they could with what they had” and suggested Romulus followed a similar path. “Everybody’s giving it everything. You’re working on everything, building things yourself. On this movie I did some of the special effects myself because I can do that, and at some point we ran out of money. You cannot just depend on ‘we’ll hire all the right people and we’ll have a great movie’. You have to make it very personal and super-involved.”

Romulus might just pull off the rare feat of scaring the living bejesus out of us, without necessarily leaving anyone wanting more. In this world of endless franchise-building – let’s not forget we still have Noah Hawley’s Alien TV series to look forward to – it might just end up being refreshing to find an Alien movie that revels in its own determination not to tell us too much about the hideous, glans-shaped beastie that has just burst out of someone’s chest cavity. After all, wasn’t that the reason we all loved this disgusting thing in the first place?