Review: Skyline

skyline one sheetRarely 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 ├╝ber-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.
skyline publicity still
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.

5 thoughts on “Review: Skyline

  1. Steve Oatney

    I do concur, sir. While you may have liked Skyline slightly more than I, I think we both would have reservations watching it again. Potential, like so many movies, it had potential for greatness, but just fell short (again, like so many movies).

    Reply
  2. Dave Taylor

    Thanks for your comment, Steve. My initial reaction was “wow, that was bad”, but I really wanted to dig into what did and didn’t work in this review to perhaps offer some insight into how I think about movies and how (he puts on his parenting hat) it’s thankfully rare to see a movie with zero redeeming elements…

    Reply
  3. Brad

    I disagree, I think the movie was very effectively done. Some of the best episodes, for example, of The Outer Limits are when aliens finally approach Earth and the one human prisoner learns that he has accidentally given away the location of the secret army force behind the sun. You are left with a feeling of utter hopelessness. Marvelous! That is what the point of this movie was, to scare. We don’t always need the hero to win. In fact this movie makes you think and gives you that empty feeling, which in my mind makes excellent Science Fiction. Almost Lovecraft-like.

    Reply
  4. Ali

    I reckon this great movie got a bad rap for ZERO or no good reason at all.

    Nothing wrong with the actors, screenplay, effects or the creatures – it was all effective.

    The story played out as real to life (if ever something like that could even possible happen) more so than other films. I find it ridiculous that we could ever defeat a species that is that advanced, its like ants defeating us (us a species! not falling into that trap!!lol) if they so choose too. I reckon all the bad reviews were just anger at the humans not winning, boy that is sad to dice a film for that reason alone – its the only reason I could think of as to why people would not enjoy this movie.

    I enjoyed this movie, only a few scenes were very cheesy but the rest were more true to the story.

    The actors did a good job, that scene were the two main characters are left and they get sucked up – powerful moment.

    Why do you want to see a film were we win yet again, cmon that’s why all these tv films are boring as s**t. considering its low budget, its pretty damn good and to compare it to a tv movie – please have you seen these mockbusters!lol

    If you love Sci Fi like me and you like a good story WATCH IT NOW! Granted the ending leaves the story open, but that’s the point, they are making a sequel!
    Considering everyone is nearly dead I would love to see were they are taking this next one, different and interesting.

    More please Strause Brothers.

    Reply
  5. Dave Taylor

    Wait, so your basic argument is that I didn’t like the film, therefore it must be because the humans didn’t win in the end? Did you read my review? :-)

    Fact is, I really liked the first reel of the film, but as it progressed, I found the characters shallow and uninteresting, their strategy for trying to survive and fight daft, and the last reel so bad that I was tempted to duck out the side door rather than have to watch a story that had clearly run out of ideas.

    Win or lose, I want a film with an interesting story and characters I can relate to on some level. If you want to see an alien invasion film, I suggest that “Battle Los Angeles” is a far better choice.

    Reply

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