Rarely do I see a film that has already garnered as much negative publicity as Skyline. Reviews have had titles like Skyline is galactically awful to Skyline: A recipe for disaster to Skyline not even good enough for cable TV and Skyline: Trapped in a Bad Movie, With No Hope of Escape. The titles are amusing, but, really, is Skyline quite that bad?
Actually, no it’s not.
Skyline still has fundamental flaws, a cast of mediocre actors playing to stereotypes, and a startlingly unsatisfying and bizarre ending, so it’s by no means a great movie or even a great sci-fi horror film. Still, after classic sci-fi films like War of the Worlds posit aliens that can be defeated by the common cold or the more recent Independence Day suggests that a computer virus can bring down an über-advanced alien vessel, I appreciated the Brothers Strause attempt to create an essentially indestructible and terrifying alien life form.
The film opens with a scene of blue energy bolts shooting into LA and emitting a hypnotic ray that causes people to walk blindly into the light, just to be sucked up into the sky and thence into the bowels of a strange, alien vessel. Flash back 15 hours to Brooklyn couple Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson) landing in LA to visit celebrity special effects wizard Terry (Donald Faison) and his girlfriend Candice (Brittany Daniel) and you have the basic setup. Oh, and in the midst of everything, Elaine tells Jarrod she’s pregnant.
Skyline isn’t a great film, and I haven’t even talked about the ending, but it was entertaining and had a number of fascinating ideas, notably when one of the characters compares the bright hypnotic light and people subsequently rising into the sky to the Biblical “Rapture”. That’s the kind of path I wish the film would have taken, but still, it’s nowhere near as bad as you may have been led to believe.
Since the beginning of cinema, aliens have proven more effective off-screen than on, which is why when they do show up, they’re often pretty lame and far too anthropomorphic. The problem is that our imagination is more effective at conjuring up something frightening than a special effects house. Spielberg is notable in his frequent waif-like aliens, for example. In the last few years, though, perhaps starting with the milestone of Alien, scary, alien creatures have started to appear, and this is one area where I thought Skyline’s sf/x team did a great job. The alien creatures are big, hulking many-tentacled creatures that are a fusion of mechanical and biological I found reminiscent of the computer-controlled creatures from The Matrix series and, yes, rather frightening.
There’s an inherent challenge in a film that shows indestructible opponents, however, and it is one of the great flaws of Skyline: there’s no happy ending. In fact, the ending, which presumably is intended to show that love conquers all obstacles, is such a confusing downer that it leaves the viewer disconcerted. Isn’t there some sort of redemption in the film? Isn’t there some sort of weakness that would allow humanity to fight on and perhaps regain control of our planet? In many ways, Skyline is inspired by the stalker horror genre, but the Brothers Strause forgot that the reason that genre works is because in the end at least one protagonist gets away, typically by killing the bad guys.
The cast sees an alien ship approaching in Skyline
This is frequent problem in modern cinema, however, the inability of the director to know when to just stop the cameras rolling and switch to the end credits. The worst offender in recent times is Tim Burton’s odd Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which had at least three logical cinematic end points, each of which was more daft than the previous, or The Dark Knight, where director Chris Nolan toys with the viewer by having quasi-endings, just to continue with the film. Add Skyline to this list: the film has at least five minutes of unnecessary footage that ruins the entire experience without any character redemption and without answering any questions about what happened or why.
The acting also ranged from mediocre to downright awful, with particular emphasis on David Zayas, who does such a terrible job of his poorly written role of tough-guy Hispanic building concierge Oliver that one can only hope he has a day job that doesn’t involve acting at all.
There are also sufficient gaffes and dumb character decisions that listing them would be tedious. For example, the aliens arrive at 4.30am and wake everyone up with their blue light and the attack. A few minutes later Jarrod and Terry go up to the roof to see what’s going on and it’s already daytime. Later, experienced Angelenos Terry and Candice encourage them to all get on the elevator down to the basement even after the building’s been shaking as if there was an earthquake. Uhm, guys, take the stairs next time.
Given this litany of things that made Skyline a flawed, unsatisfying movie, why do I think it still has some redeeming features? Because I thought that the film had lots of potential, were they to have cast better actors and remembered that movies where the characters face extraordinary challenges but redeem themselves — and save the human race — are far more satisfying for the viewer. The powerful, octopus-like aliens and their ability to reassemble themselves after being damaged was a great idea, however. Promising, but promise not delivered. If you like the genre, it might be worth seeing on a big screen. If not, turn up the subwoofer when you rent this one and it will probably be worth your time.