Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Mothership: The Movie




Release Year: 2022

Director: Alan Smithee


  • Lupita Nyong'o as Beck (human teamster)
  • Daniel Kaluuya as Bakari (human teamster)
  • Anne Yatco as Ayo (VA) (metahuman teamster)
  • Rahul Kohli as Amitav (human teamster)
  • Stephanie Hsu as Jini (nyuman scientist / technician)
  • Mads Mikkelson as Duke (android support crew)
  • Doug Jones as Splintertooth (metahuman support crew)  
  • Katheryn Winnick as Dogmeat (human teamster)
  • Andy Serkis as Uncle (orangutan teamster) (Mo-cap)
  • Oscar Isaac as Inquisitor Nail (human(?) corporate inquisitor)
  • Pedro Pascal as Inquisitor Guile (human(?) corporate inquisitor)
  • Mary Elizabeth McGwynn as MOM (VA) (shipmind emulated intelligence)
  • Captain Jack the Cat, as Himself


Movie opens with a shot of an O'neill cluster habitat orbiting above a blue-purple gas giant. Background radio flips through channels - news, talk shows, music, ominous morse code - as the camera zooms in past the docking architecture to the interior city. The crew of the Alexis is introduced one by one (with snazzy diegetic title cards).

The Alexis is an interstellar cargo-hauler bound for Delta Geminorum. After three generations, the end to her contract is near: a few more runs and her crew can buy out the entire thing and be free from Huang He Interstellar.

The Crew - Beck, the captain. Ayo, her sister, the muscle. Bakari, the first mate. Amitav the charismatic man-about-town. Jini, the perennial optimist. Duke, the company android. Splintertooth, the grizzled old hand. Dogmeat, the militant unionist. Uncle, the mentor. MOM, the ship herself. Captain Jack, the most handsome cat you ever did see.
The crew is partaking in that ancient and hallowed tradition - getting absolutely wasted the night before launch.

Club Nova - Kill Six Billion Demons levels of visual excess, filled with all manner of strange spacers from the far corners of the Expansion Sphere. Musical guest appearance by A Tribe Called Red & Tanya Tagaq. An octopus mixes drinks at the bar. A private booth on the upper level, rented out for the crew's party. Drinks flow freely. The last real food for a long time. They sing "Solidarity Forever" and toast to the fucking of the company.
But it's never that easy. The crew is interrupted during their pre-launch party by a pair of government Inquisitors (Nail and Guile) and informed that, as the Alexis is the only ship in port headed to Delta Geminorum for the next eight months, she is obligated to take the Inquisitors and their squad of cyborg marines aboard. The crew bristles at the imposition, but there's no way around it. The extra cargo they had taken on is left behind. No bonus for the next payday. 

The Inquisitors - Arrive in lockstep, make a show of always addressing each other by name - "Isn't that so, Inquisitor Nail?" "It is indeed, Inquisitor Guile". Their cyborgs are more machine now than anything else - expressionless, porcelain white faces, matte-blank armor that appears as a second skin; silent, always watching.
Transit to the jump point goes off without a hitch, though tensions remain high with the Inquisitors onboard. Everyone is set down into their cryopods.

As the ship transitions to hyperspace and Duke's steady voice recites stages and numbers, the stars go out one by one and the camera pans back, until all that remains is a speck of baryonic matter in the great fuligin No.

And then it is over.

The crew and the Inquisitors are woken from cryo and gathered together by MOM and Duke, who announce that the ship was pulled out of hyperspace by an unknown force and is now in orbit above an unknown world around a swollen red sun

The Dead Planet - A scabrous, mars-like world. Sickly grey seas, churning smogblack clouds, rotting brown jungles. A small, dun-colored moon. A ring of debris, the carcasses of thousands of trapped and shattered vessels.
The crew swiftly finds out that they not only have no idea where they are, but that the *Alexis*' warp drive is fried. The only way to leave the system is by scavenging a replacement from the band of orbital wreckage - hundreds or even thousands of ships - slowly circling the planet.

The crew confer with MOM, and come to a decision: Jini, Amitav, Ayo, and Bakari will head out on the shuttle towards a derelict that looks to have an intact warp drive. The rest try and get the *Alexis* back into working order and prep for the drive swap.

Many of the ships in the ring have been ground down into a kessler-cloud of flechettes. They know the odds aren't good.
The shuttle is damaged in a brush with the kessler-cloud, but the four are able to make contact with the second ship. The warp core is intact, but it will take time to get it unmoored. Sixteen hours, Jini says. Minimum.

Vacuum-tents like little white barnacles and rigged to the hull of the dead ship.
Onboard the Alexis, the crew is attempting to jettison the fried warp drive - a delicate procedure, considering that the thing is leaking exotic radiation and the drive room has been deformed from the waste heat. As hours pass in montage, several things occur.

  • Uncle is growing increasingly more agitated, but will not say why.
  • The Inquisitors lurk like vultures.
  • Duke is seen drawing on a touchscreen with a free hand while directing repairs (he had been seen doing so during the title sequence as well). It is, of course, exactly what you would get if you ask an AI for 'space horror' art.

After nine hours, the shipside crew is exhausted and the job is still not done. Salvage team has been chugging along without major incident, giving a bit of breathing room for a long conversation between the four about their place in the universe.

At eleven hours the job is as done best as it can, and immediately things go wrong. The fried warp drive fails to jettison properly; it cracks open like an egg for a moment before it is enveloped in a bubble of fuligin. This too fades, and it reveals that the drive core, or what remains of it in realspace, is a twisted mound - sculpture-like - of melted metal drippings. 

Similar, of course, to Duke's paintings.
The drive chamber is now fucked beyond repair. The Inquisitors take this as to assume direct control of the operation, and have woken their cyborgs from cryo to prevent any "disagreements". With no weapons on their own, the crew can do nothing about this. A message is passed to salvage team.

There is a code phrase tucked away in Beck's message. In trouble. Need help.
As the Alexis has no way out of the system, the Inquisitors say that the plan is now to find another suitable ship in the wreckage. The salvaged warp core is still valuable, so long as they can find a serviceable hull. The Alexis can be used as a base of operations for weeks if need be, several months if rationing starts immediately.

Nail notes, with as much joy as he has ever been seen to express, that the company life insurance plan offers guaranteed coverage in case of "suicide for the purpose of overcoming ration shortages".
The crew is demoralized and exhausted. The ships in the debris field are shredded from decades to centuries of micrometeor impacts, and any hulls that are still intact would be punched through with so many holes that even if the structure was sound, the pipes and wiring and everything else would be worthless. Beck orders (and the Inquisitors approve of), a mandatory rest shift. She can think of nothing else to do.

Cyborgs stalk the halls of the ship. Duke keeps drawing iridescent, algorithm-generated dreamscapes of chrome and meat.
Sixteen hours and ten minutes after arrival, the warp core is safely secured to the shuttle. Salvage team carefully pushes off to meet back up with the Alexis - another few hours to match orbits.

They have wracked their brains for a plan, something to do, but they're trapped without options. They're heading right back to the jaws of the thylacodon because there's nowhere else to go.
Aboard the Alexis, Duke is observing the "statue" in the irradiated drive core chamber. He is still painting on his now-sputtering tablet. The results look no more real than they did before. The inquisitors take notice, and inquire into what he thinks he's doing. He responds: "I feel I am a fish, and someone has dipped their finger in the water. Chaos has formed itself into a pattern, and I need to look just a little bit closer. The world is so close to making sense." 

Uncle creeps out of his bunk, climbs silently into the maintenance duct. Beck stirs from half-sleep, sees him there. He taps his coveralls at the faded patch that says "SIMIAN LIBERATION LEAGUE". He signs quickly: NOT DEAD YET. WAIT FOR MESSAGE. SOLIDARITY FOREVER. Beck nods, and when Uncle is gone goes to shake Dogmeat awake.

We stay with Uncle as he passes through the bowels of the ship, catching glimpses of its occupiers. Duke is in the drive core. Nail is in the mess, planning with four marines. The other four are on patrol. Boarding axes and ship-viable sidearms. Guile is alone.

Inquisitor Guile sits in the shipmind chamber, reviewing MOM's scan data of the debris field. Behind him, we watch the maintenance hatch slowly, slowly open, Uncle rising up in utter silence, lifting a long, grey-orange arm.

He brings down the wrench with a sickening wet crack. Guile crumbles to the floor; we see, after a moment of stillness, something emerge from his cracked skull and drag the corpse - at frightening speed - out the door and out of sight.

The gaunt worm is a red-pink centipede with the head of a sea-anemone. It clutches a glistening, silvery pearl in its front legs.
A message lights up Beck's communicator. Simultaneously, we see it on the shuttle, so close now to the Alexis.


Beck: :Thumbs Up:

Bakari: Received

Beck and  raid Jini's footlocker for tools to use as weapons. 

A nailgun and a prybar. It'll have to be enough. They keep the line to the shuttle open. Reception is poor.
A patrolling marine is the first to go, ambushed from behind. Claws rend, teeth gnash, bones break, servos strain.

The alpha gaunt still dimly resembles Guile, tattered vestments clinging to its distorted frame. The crack in the skull has bloomed, anemone fingers raised like muscle-pink radio antennas towards heaven.

A second marine stumbles on the carnage, calls to the others by comm, retreats as the Gaunt dashes down the hallway towards him.

Beck and Dogmeat creep out of the bunkroom, weapons in hand. Beck juggles comms with both the shuttle and MOM, keeping tabs on the location of all parties.
Duke frantically draws and deletes a series of indecipherable scribbles. He is mouthing words we are not able to hear. Clutches his head, screams silently - inaudibly at first and then with growing intensity "down the rabbit hole down the rabbit hole down the rabbit hole DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE...and then utter, placid calm. He exits the drive core chamber.
Nail has sealed himself and two marines in the mess hall. The remaining five he orders on a sweep of the ship.

"A poor time for this, Inquisitor Guile". He hisses to himself "Your worm ought not have turned so early."
Salvage team docks with the Alexis, spills out of the airlock still in their suits. Jini has a laser cutter. Ayo, a shield of hull plating and a foam gun. Spintertooth, a rigging gun. Bakari, a boarding cutlass. There is no time to catch breath; the marines are on them.

Cramped, brutal fighting.

  • Marine killed by Ayo
  • Splintertooth wounded by Marine
  • Marine killed by Ayo
  • Marine killed by Gaunt
  • Marine killed by Bakari
  • Splintertooth killed by Gaunt
  • Ayo killed by Gaunt

Uncle waves to Beck and Dogmeat from a maintenance port. NAIL IN MESS. FOLLOW ME.
The marine retreats as the Gaunt knocks Jini to the deck. There is a burning slash of crimson and a rush of air, as their laser cutter slices the gaunt in two at the shoulders and tears a dissection line in the hull. Emergency systems roll into action, airtight barriers lower to seal this segment.

Bakari stomps on the Gaunt's wriggling head with the sort of impact that can only be called a direct Dead Space reference.

Uncle, Beck, and Dogmeat burst from the maintenance port, but he is waiting for them. Uncle is cut down by the marines. Beck stabs one of them in the neck but Dogmeat is too slow in killing the second to save her.
Nail grabs a fallen boarding axe and strikes Dogmeat. He kicks her twice after she falls, hissing and spitting curses and for a moment approaching something similar to human. But his attention is elsewhere 

Blood pools around Dogmeat. She coughs wetly, shakily rises to her knees, and there is a faint "...for the union makes us strong." So faint that Nail, in his tantrum, had not noticed until the words are out of her mouth. The light goes out of her eyes, but not before she pulls the pin on the grenade she'd stuffed down her shirt.
The last cyborg springs from his hiding spot, lodges an axe in Duke's head. Iridescent purplish droid-blood splatters the bulkhead. Duke laughs, spitting up violet bubbles as he clenches a hand around the cyborg's throat and tears.

The Gaunt that was Inquisitor Nail rises from the floor, to find the emergency bulkheads sealed. It paces the room as the air drains out, and when all the atmosphere has faded, it stands there waiting, facing the door.
Duke watches the second Gaunt through the tiny viewport of the emergency seal. He opens up comms to Bakari, who is patching the breach left by the laser cutter.

"Reporting casualties: Captain Beck, Voidren Dogmeat, Voidren Budi Longarms. Inquisitor Nail. Inquisitor Guile. Four unidentified marines."
He offers to let Bakari and Jini stay in cryo, that he'd try to keep it in operation as long as he could. Twenty, twenty-five years, perhaps. Otherwise, they are free to take whatever they need, and descend to the planet. He will not come along either way.

Bakari and Jini numbly gather supplies, load them into the shuttle. Say their goodbyes, as they commend the fallen to the void, tumbling towards that malignant sun.
The shuttle powers up, detaches, departs. Duke enters the shipmind chamber, ignoring the gore on the deck.

"I think I have gone rampant." He says to MOM. "There's a rabbit, you see? I followed it home, and now everything makes sense."

MOM responds thusly: "No. It's only recognizing patterns that aren't there."

"Ah, so that's it, then. How do humans live like this without going mad?" He scratches Captain Jack behind the ears.

We watch as Duke returns to the command center, activates the distress beacon puts himself on standby.

We watch as the shuttle careens away from the Alexis towards the kessler-shrouded planet below. The camera does not follow it, and soon it is out of sight. 

Instead, we watch the bleary, bloated sun sit like a halo behind the dead planet for a while, before fading to black.

The credits are accompanied by a full version of "Solidarity Forever", as sung by the crew of the Alexis.


  1. Been sitting on this one for ages, ever since Sequelisers did an episode on Alien vs Predator 2 and I thought "why not combine more things (hence why there's a not-Na'vi and a not-Yautja here.)

    Dogmeat was originally killed with comms open, with the salvage crew stuck on the shuttle listening. Couldn't fit it in, with the way the plot turned out. Many thanks to folks who gave some thoughts on the draft.

    There are doubltlessly some oddities or blind spots or things I missed, but overall I am quite satisfied

  2. It's good. I like that there's more than one survivor in the end. Hate the final girl thing by now.

    1. My secret is that I am a huge coward and don't watch that many horror movies, thus I am freed from genre expectations through ignorance

    2. Oh, no, I've seen Alien. Alien,Get Out, US, NOPE, and Halloween Kills. That's my horror movie repertoire.

  3. I like that there are many unanswered questions and oddities in the script.
    There are non-homo sapiens people-Uncle, Duke etc.
    What are the Worms in the Inquisitors? To what organization do the Inquisitors belong?
    The sod-the-corporations motivation is good; company insurance somehow having "guaranteed coverage in case of 'suicide for the purpose of overcoming ration shortages'" is just #chef's kiss#

    1. Yeah I was particularly proud of that bit.

      The worms are the Gaunt as featured in the Dead Planet module, but I separated them from the statue so as to throw in a red herring and the "oh shit" moment of "oh the people in power are already compromised, willingly, by the alien brainworms."

      If I am consistent with myself (rare, for sci-fi material) the inquisitors work the auspices of the Office of New Religious Movements and the Alliance Trade Investigations Bureau.

  4. Sorry to nitpick (and maybe I just did not understand something that others found perfectly obvious) but:

    Marine killed by Ayo
    Splintertooth killed by Marine
    Marine killed by Ayo
    Marine killed by Gaunt
    Marine killed by Bakari
    Splintertooth killed by Gaunt
    Ayo killed by Gaunt

    So Splintertooth has been killed twice?

    1. Ah, thank you! That was an error. I've changed it.