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Strange lights descend on the city of Los Angeles, drawing people outside like moths to a flame where an extraterrestrial force threatens to swallow the entire human population off the face of the Earth.
Release Date: 12 November 2010
Reading the reviews for "Skyline" is a little like standing at the edge of a crowd throwing stones at a poor schmuck who broke some archaic law in a dirty Dark Ages town. Okay, maybe the image is a little purple, but so are the things this flick has had written about it.
There were a lot of comparisons made, inevitably, to "Cloverfield," a film I found nearly unwatchable. At least I wasn't one of the people who fled a Cloverfield screening after becoming motion-sick, but I was fairly underwhelmed by the terrible acting, the thin plot and thinner subtext, and by the impossibility of believing that anyone carrying a camera in those circumstances would chose to shoot his friends instead of EVER pointing the lens toward the monster. Cloverfield was a good idea with a lot of money thrown at it, and absolutely no real attempt to develop the idea into an actual package. I initially was wary about committing to see Skyline, in case it was cut from the same threadbare cloth.
I deliberately avoiding reading any reviews until after I'd seen the film for myself. The trailers seemed to indicate a bleak, almost nihilistic sci fi that might just walk a step further than "District 9" in a depressing view of first contact, if with a lot less subtlety, layers, and extraordinary performances. I went in, actually, hoping for a film that ratcheted horror to the next level with aliens that were truly alien, without any way for humans to connect with them on some indefinably and unexpectedly universal level.
It's almost impossible for a movie to create aliens that feel really alien, or really new. From green bug-eyed monsters to tentacled monolithic squid-things to metallic semi-organic horrors dripping with corrosive ichor, there's not a lot new that the Japanese haven't already blown up to mammoth proportions and thrown at Godzilla. In the excessive civility of Star Trek-type universes, fake foreheads always seemed to be enough to draw the line between us and the other.
The aliens here are nothing new although the details are interesting and suitably horrific. The ships owe a lot of their conception to the Babylon 5 Shadow vessels and their organic technology. What's good here is the utter hopelessness faced by the humans in their egocentric lives and their sky-high penthouse apartments. It's a good reminder to all of us who live in relative comfort and safety in the Western hemisphere, that a lot of places in our world where dead comes raining down from the sky without warning, where there is no Will Smith in a fancy military plane to save the day, and where no amount of heroics makes any difference at all.
This is almost the movie I wanted to see that takes us face to face with defeat, and shows us how sometimes, no matter how much you try or how clever or rich or beautiful you are, that if a greater force wants you dead, without the possibility of mercy or respite, you will ultimately be destroyed. And then, it's all just over.
Is it a brilliant film? Probably not. The Brothers Strause, who have made their mark in visual effects in some of the most stunning looking films of the last fourteen years, are neophyte directors with only a couple of features under their belts. They maybe don't handle actors as well as they might in the future - or maybe they don't have access to the absolute top echelon of Hollywood talent. But it has something, and if you allow yourself to go put yourself in their hands for a mere hour and a half or so, you might just get a rare twinge of the kind of creeping horror the best scary sci fi offers.
Eric Balfour (Jarrod) has recently shown a more nuanced and charismatic side on the Stephen King inspired series "Haven" than he was ever able to show on "Six Feet Under," and he's good here, although none of the performances are really stunning. The script, written by visual effects friends of the Strauses', is basic and does fall into cliches.
But the macho bullshit shown by Jarrod's best friend (Donald Faison, Scrubs's Turk) and the building employee (Dexter's David Zayas) is compelling when it proves to be entirely futile - the way you figure it would actually be in real life instead of in Hollywood's action hero paradigm. Only Jarrod, whose relationship with pregnant girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson) actually deepens in the crisis after being challenged with almost unbelievable pressure, manages to move past the idea that somehow, force is going to be enough to get them out of the hopeless situation. What he and Elaine hold on to is their love, something the aliens are unable to comprehend or even notice. Yes, the world is ending, and no, there's no hope. But sometimes, Skyline seems to say, you shouldn't count on going down fighting being anything but meaningless. Far better to hold hands with someone you care about, and face the inevitable together.
If anything, I'd have made the film even bleaker - but maybe every Hollywood film sets its limits of what it thinks an audience will be willing to cope with, I guess. Even if that limit isn't just accidentally reached when you finally see M. Night Shyamalan's cheesy alien creature and your sense of dread gets K.O.'d by the giggles.