When I have trouble falling asleep, I pitch movie ideas to myself. It’s a lot of fun, though they sure as s*** doesn’t help me fall asleep. Neither are they shining beacons of originality; they’re merely delights–sweet and empty calories. But enough exposition, last night I pitched The Prisoner, a fun little sci-fi horror flick.
The movie opens with a science expedition exploring alien ruins on a lush and far-distant planet, ruins abandoned for millennia. The movie opens with a science expedition exploring alien ruins on a lush and far-distant planet, ruins abandoned for millennia. The ruins are one vast and palatial superstructure; immense and extravagantly ornate chambers connected by ramped hallways like boulevards. Through dialogue, it is revealed that this is not the scientists’ first encounter with the alien civilization. They are already well informed by prior research, but have pieced together enough information to be the first to navigate here, the ancient capital of this alien empire. Eerily, there are no signs of life within the palace, not even intrusions from the bustling natural world outside its walls. Furthermore, everything seems in excellent condition, even operational (i.e. as they wander through, air systems and lights whir on automatically.)
The pace creeps, lulling the audience to ease. And then, in the depths, they find what appears to be a dungeon. And in the furthest depths of this dungeon, behind an immense amount of automated security (curious at their intrusion), the team finds an occupied cell.
The strange being sits on the far of end of a long room (presented in wide shot, never zooming in.) All that can be made of it is that it is an absorbing dark, shapeless except for a large flower-like protrusion on top (perhaps its head), and is absolutely motionless. The scientists discuss their momentous find (even if dead), discuss if and how they should transport it back to the research facility on ____, then realize they have spent far too long exploring and need to return to their ship. The camera remains centered on the mysterious being, then begins to zoom in slowly. Suddenly, its body ripples–as if made of plasma–and strange dagger-tipped appendages begin to form. All the while, a shifting red-blue glow begins to grow within the center of its body.
Cut to weeks further in the expedition. The dungeon is full of equipment, the being looks as it did when they first laid eyes on it, and they are preparing to transfer it to a sort-of dolly for transport to the ship. Cut to the team putting the being in a heavy-duty containment field.
Fast forward even further, the science vessel (substantial and complex) docks with an even more enormous and complex space installation (over a planet other than Earth.) We see a control room on the space station attempting to make contact with the members of the science vessel crew. Concerned at the lack of response, they drum up a team to investigate. Upon boarding the ship, the team is horrified to discover the entire crew murdered, some at each others’ hands, some by suicide, some more mysteriously. “What the hell is this? Space madness?” the gruff captain asks. But then they discover the being, still in the containment field.
We’re more than halfway through the movie before we meet our protagonist, the man tasked with investigating what happened on the expedition. While the rest of his three-man team performs forensic analysis, he goes through the video logs, recapping the discovery of the being, more events that the audience hasn’t yet seen (such as figuring out how to shut down the active security system.) Then on to the voyage back to base, which is where things really start to get creepy. There is intense bickering, unexplained malfunctions, then the first murder. Every one of the science expedition is on edge. Our protagonist’s boss comes on board to discuss matters with him, then leaves so he can continue working. Then one of them discovers that, over the course of the voyage, the containment field has been turned on and off hundreds of times. Accusations fly that someone is trying to perform research on it before they reach a secure facility, fingers are pointed. Strange happenings and discord continue to grow. Suddenly, the murders and suicides are rampant, we see the captain get into an intense argument with his wife.
Our protagonist is on the ship discussing what he’s learned with his boss when the final log entry begins. The captain comes on, “She was already dead. Already when I…” he threatens to break into tears before collecting himself, “Whatever that thing is we found, it’s alive. I don’t know how, but it’s f***ing alive. It’s been breaking out of containment. And…my wife was already dead, already killed herself, when I argued with her, here on these logs, I argued…It can mimic us. Perfectly. It knows us, understands us. It’s…it is evil. We should have never freed it from that dungeon. Please, listen to…” the captain’s eyes widen in horror, then the video cuts out. Our protagonist is visibly shaken. His boss: “Hell of a thing, what do you make of that?” Our protagonist flinches, then, with exaggerated calm, he asks the station (with his communicator) whether his boss is actually on board. His boss responds over the communicator, “That’s a negative, you need me to see something?” But our protagonist has already thrown his chair backwards, catching the alien off-guard, and bolted from the room.
The ship is locked down with his team on board, to prevent the alien from escaping. From that point on, the movie is all tension. Failed attempts by the alien (who we still have not seen in action in its true form) to get off the ship. Failed attempts by the team, with the help of the station’s crew over the intercom, to kill the alien. Creepy scenes where they bicker over failed attempts, not sure who’s really who. Creepy scenes where it speaks to them, in English, as itself: a supremely-intelligent, supremely-malevolent being. They find one of the team members brutally killed. The other is later mortally-wounded and falls unconscious.
And it all builds up to a climactic scene where the alien is revealed as itself, clattering along the metal floor on thousands of dagger-tipped limbs, glowing radiantly in its black and rippling plasma body, its head blossoming grotesquely. And then…
And then I fell asleep. And sitting here, writing this, I don’t really know how to defeat it, or if it is defeated. Suggestions?