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REVIEW: Skyline [2010]

“What happens when the rest of the blinds fall?”

How long does it take an alien invasion to wipe out Earth? According to the Brothers Strause (Colin and Greg, who last gave us Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem—a worse movie than this), less than three days. In that time, Matrix-like Sentinels morphed into a biometric composition a la “skin job” Cylons, can enter our atmosphere, mesmerize all who look into their light, and suck them up, leaving the streets and buildings below vacant. It all happens out of nowhere at a little before five in the morning and nothing can stop them as they rebuild themselves from destruction, proving to be what every sci-fi geek would love—an alien species that will in fact annihilate humanity, leaving no out for some lucky underachiever to find a dent in their armor. This could be a film that gets it right, not pandering to the audience and a feel-good necessity for box office gold. Heck, the thing was self-financed by the directors for a paltry ten million, outside the studio system; writers Joshua Cordes and Liam O’Donnell could do whatever they desired. It’s just a shame that money talks and a chance to give Skyline a sequel ends up too much to ignore.

I’m not saying that the lack of a cash-grab ending could have saved this endeavor from being a mediocre work; it’s no masterpiece for the first 80-minutes either. What it is, though, is a fun action thriller with some gorgeous visuals. I love the concept of these creatures coming and taking over with the simplicity of tracker beam-type light, emanating forth to pull all gazing up into the bio-electric ships above. It’s actually a brilliant device, ridding the plot of extraneous people running about in the streets—its simply J-Rock, T-Money, and their girls. We follow these leads from the get-go, enjoying a fun, off-the-wall LA-style birthday party, and waking up to them being, for all intents and purposes, the last humans alive. With one of their own lost to the light and another narrowly escaped, his return to the darkness slowly allowing the electronic vein trees around his eyes and body to dissipate, they’ve seen what they are up against and know there is no defense. A hypothesis of getting to the water at the marina across from the skyscraper apartment complex is the only idea they can think of for safety. It’s only in the plan’s attempt that we get to fully see what is out there.

The ships, the drones, the levitating masses, and especially the effects drawn onto those caught in the light are spectacular. Add in the very modest budget and you’ve got to give credit to the Strauses and their computer team. In a bit of an inside joke, the successful Terry (Donald Faison), who’s birthday everyone is gathered for, tries to cajole his visual arts college BFF Jarrod (Eric Balfour) to stay west permanently and help him on his new movie. Jarrod laments how he knows nothing about special effects, to which his buddy replies how a computer is simply another tool to use; it’s his artistic eye that he wants on the team. It’s a humorous nod to the film itself and how a creative workshop can orchestrate whatever it can think of, no matter the budget at hand. What one needs to take pause in, however, is to the fact pretty imagery does not a movie make. District 9 was such a huge success despite its production costs because it had an inventive story, stellar acting, and humanity from start to finish. Skyline tries this, but only being able to procure TV-actors and utilizing a standard monster invasion, A to B plot progression holds it back.

I’d compare this to Cloverfield, but that allowed us to care about the characters and emotionally invest in their survival. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always liked Faizon and Balfour is solid, I just never empathized with them here. In fact, I kind of hoped they’d all die, giving me my fill of an ever-present desire for dystopic, villain-victory conclusions and to show some sweet pyrotechnic deaths. The love Balfour’s Jarrod and Scottie Thompson’s Elaine have for each other is palpable—a necessity for what the filmmakers dump on us at the end—but their constant disagreements about what to do, (go for the water or stay in lockdown), gets old quick. LA adultery crops up as well with Faizon and his lovers, played by Brittany Daniel and the cute Crystal Reed, but we really could care less once the aliens begin their hostile takeover. Frankly, if I were about to be wiped from existence, I wouldn’t pout about my cheating jerk of a boyfriend like he’s the biggest problem facing me at the moment. It’s all surface clutter trying to trick us into believing the people we are watching are human, but is really just gets in the way of the action I paid to see.

And the adrenaline rushes are good. The use of insanely bright lights cause lens flares and reflections all over the screen, shielding the CGI machines in a haze, helping make everything seem authentically placed with the real surroundings and actors. There are a couple cool air battles between alien crafts and stealth bombers; a lot of explosive rounds fired, including nukes; some nicely rendered tentacle moments of chase and capture; and some good surprise deaths. The performances become a bit much at times as the fact the cast is a who’s who of ‘I’m cool’ personalities doesn’t help, letting hero complexes on behalf of Balfour and apartment manager David Zayas risk things going into over-the-top theatrics. Overall, though, they do a good job facilitating the action and allowing the script to take them into clichéd territory of human/alien hybrids, power source harvesting, and more. The filmmakers took it too far, though, forgetting what worked and attempting to make things overly complicated. All I wanted was a faceless evil taking Earth down without clear motivations. Give me a disaster flick with stakes and accountability; don’t subvert what works by rendering it impotent on the hopes a sequel is greenlit. More often than not, you end up with a film missing an ending.

Skyline 5/10 | ★ ★

photography:
[1] In the sci-fi thriller “Skyline”, 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. Byline: Photo Credit: [hy*drau"lx]/Rogue. Copyright: 2010 Rogue. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Jarrod (ERIC BALFOUR) and girlfriend Elaine (SCOTTIE THOMPSON) run for cover from invading aliens in “Skyline”. In the sci-fi thriller, 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. Photo Credit: [hy*drau"lx]/Rogue. Copyright: 2010 Rogue. All Rights Reserved.
[3] Donald Faison stars as Terry in Rogue Pictures’ Skyline (2010)

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