Don't all of us have sexual fantasies about people we know are bad for us, fantasies we'd be into making a reality, but cockblocking friends, parents, lack of a condom, no erection, sudden eruptions of crying, and our own latent good sense conspire to save us, in a sense, from our drive. Would knowing the truth about Sil, the half-alien sex machine played by Natasha Henstridge make any difference if she threw herself into my arms? Your arms, I mean. God, what is wrong with me?
Sil's allure is a Venus Flytrap genetic con job, but such a concept is particularly apt in an age where unattractive metallic mutants hide behind other, sexier Facebook pics. Just watch SPECIES and then CATFISH and then kill yourself, probably. CATFISH gets high praise, but SPECIES (1995) gets a bad rap just because it's got huge flaws and an overly sexy plot. The dialogue is laughable in spots, but it's good to laugh, sometimes. THE ASTOUNDING SHE-MONSTER, I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE, PLAN NINE --they are laughable too, and look at the love they get! From me! And guys who get books published by McFarland. God bless them, for keeping weirdness alive, for recognizing that, intentionally or not, a film's unique badness DNA can sometimes touch on aspects of the human experience in ways more mainstream, 'better' films--chained up in groupthink, second-guessing and censorship--will never be able to. A certain breed of science fiction and horror film, unintentionally but maybe not, gets deep into the reasons we, or at least I, love movies that seem like they're being told by an excited eight year-old discovering his first Playboy crush.
Sil (Natasha Henstridge) is a fast-growing hybrid of human DNA and alien DNA growing up in a drab, stern environment (the lab) like Jane Eyre, who escapes... on a train! Looking to breed with any man not encumbered by faulty genes, rather aggressively, she's like a teenage boy fantasy come to life, to devour him, ala death drive desire made flesh, the kind of fantasy only boys who've never had a hot girl come violently onto them at a coke party would dare nurture. As the scientist who tried to gas her with cyanide before she bolted, Fitch (Ben Kingsley) would say, "She's... that fast." You would think such a dire threat would get call out the national guard, or at least inspire proper tailoring, but Fitch moseys around Sil's bloody trail in an oversize suit jacket and black T-shirt with a 'hand-picked team' of four civilian consultants, including: sociologist Stephen (Alfred Molina), 'hand-picked' telepath, Dan (Forest Whitaker), mouthing profundities like "her eyes are in front... her eyes in front so she can judge the distance to her prey;" MILF-ish Dr. Laura (Marg Helgenberger), and tough guy Preston (Michael Madsen) forge the only non-dysfunctional relationship in the film, and they're relatively healthy desire makes a nice contrast to the horrific sexual apocalypse promised by Sil.
For the unattractive nerd trio of Dan, Stephen, and Fitch, though, Syl's chosen killing floor --LA--is a hostile, uncaring place and as they are all Oscar-nominated actors (two of them winners) that alienation and nerdy reticence is felt very keenly. When Pres asks a club owner if any playas left with any hot blondes before they got there, and notes she'd pick "only prime players, no assholes," suddenly the whole depressing shill of night life is felt in their bones. For Sil, this nerd quintet are the assholes, a gaggle of merciless cockblockers with the power to call down air strikes on her car or trace her stolen credit cards before her current victim can even get, as they say, the tip in.
With its 'mobile population' and sun-baked lonesome, Los Angeles bends and shifts to accommodate Sil's killing/sex spree, with the team of humans scrambling after her the way the mainstream ugly America follows hipster artists into gentrified neighborhoods, eager to live in thriving artistic center, and in so doing turning said 'hood into just another overpriced chain store strip mall, forcing the young artists to be on the road again, ever searching for a sanctuary from the tedium of the country's Fitches. Los Angeles not only hides Sil, it is Sil.
And damning the empty shell of L.A. is just one bomb dropped in SPECIES; subtextually it explores aspects of media saturation no high budget movie would dare. In our daily life, models smile blandly on every available screen and page, and unless we work in Soho or have friends who are rich modelisers and still invite us to parties, we seldom see them in the flesh. This is only natural. Our fantasies are never meant to come true. It's best to look that gift horse in the mouth and search for retractible fangs, but we never do. In an age of digital surface only L.A. has depth, since it's where the beauty goes to be pixelized. The zombie Angelinos Sil encounters never dare register as more than easily dispatched cliches, while in her aching beauty Henstridge's Sil embodies that ghost image of Los Angeles down to the core. She breathes something into the emptiness; it's death, but at least it's something. With Sil you're seduced by the surface and then gutted by the ugly CGI banshee within; you get a five minute window to mate with 3-D perfection, and then you're suffocated by the digital Giger tongue. Welcome to Blu-ray! I'll taaaake it!