I remember two or three months ago when the first trailers of Skyline played in front of whatever movie it was I had gone to see that day. Blue lights streak down from the sky in a city, causing no damage when they hit, and two people looking upwards as people around those lights get sucked upwards into what are revealed to be alien spaceships, followed by the title card. Though I did not see them, I know that later trailers included rampaging creatures, and a massive aerial battle against those ships. The movie looked really good I thought. It looked like it was worth seeing.
It was not.
There has always been a saying that producers in any visual medium put their best stuff out front to get people’s attention. But there is usually enough things held back so that there is still something there to interest the people that shelled out their money for it. Then there are the cases where people will say that the trailer was the only good stuff, as opposed to some of it, and this is the case with Skyline. The people that made this definitely know how to cut a trailer together.
I suppose I’ll start at the beginning, Eric Balfour plays Jarrod, a struggling “something” that’s never really specified (but I assume to be graphic designer), and his girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson, who looks like a young Jerrie Ryan) are flying to Los Angelos for the birthday party of his now successful friend Terry (Donald Faison) whose job is also never specified (I assumed singer/songwriter, Wikipedia confirms Special Effects Producer). During the party, Jarrod and Elaine fight about uprooting when Terry offers him a job, and Elaine reveals she is pregnant.
During the night, the blue lights start falling, and anyone who looks into them is lured in, and they disappear. Jarrod is one of the people lured in, his eyes start to go white and his blood vessels visibly change color, but he is stopped before he can get close enough to be taken. Shortly after it is revealed that anyone close to these lights is being sucked (more like vacuumed) into the sky by several alien ships floating over the city. The characters try several times, unsuccessfully, to escape the building, as smaller aliens slowly pick them off.
During the ordeal, the military tries to deal with the aliens. First it sends in a flight of Predator drones running interference for a nuclear armed Stealth Bomber. It takes down the largest of the alien ships, and things might be looking up, until the ship starts repairing itself. Later, the military also attempts a more concerted attack using conventional fighters and airlifted infiltration teams. But nothing stops the aliens, it was over before it even began.
I will say this flat out, this movie is not good. The filmmaker’s purpose in creating this movie was to do a low budget, studio-less alien invasion film, and to have it center on a small group of characters caught in the middle. Centring on small groups of characters caught in the shitstorm allows the filmmakers to keep information and exposition to a minimum while, bringing character development and intensity to the proceedings. This, combined with strong writing is why “found-footage” style movies like Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity have managed to be so successful. Too bad Skyline is not one of those found-footage films.
The script, actors, and setting are limited in such a way that this probably would have worked better as a shaky-cam, found-footage film. As it stands, instead of watching as our intrepid survivors attempt daring escapes, we watch as they sit in this single apartment and themselves watch the invasion happen and occasionally fail to grasp the obvious danger that they’re in. The characters are poorly written and acted, and fall back on several cliches that are unimportant, again considering the danger the characters find themselves in.
For example, stressed out, one of the supporting characters lights up a cigarette, after which Elaine tells her to stop, because she’s pregnant. Seriously? You’re hiding out in a high-rise condo, they know you’re there, your life expectancy can be realistically measured in hours, and you’re worried about a few minutes of secondhand smoke? That is only the most egregious, but it is by no means the only example. I realize that part of the purpose of keeping the focus small was to keep the characters in the dark and their reactions more natural, but the script was written well enough for those reactions to feel even remotely natural.
Probably the one good thing about the movie is the design and special effects. It should be, the directors own and operate the effects studio that produced Skyline, and its where 90% of its budget went. There are many interesting things done with the design and visualizations of the alien ships. The aliens come in many different shapes and sizes, from octopus creatures to hulking brutes, all well realized in a low-budget, pseudo biomechanical way. The majority of them are purposely indistinct, despite the amount of screen time they get, especially the octopus creatures. The idea that the aliens would attack via something as simple as brainwashing and mass abduction instead of lasers blazing is an idea not commonly seen in science fiction. And the idea that they extract the brains of said abductees for use as operators/batteries is, similarly, something that is very out of the ordinary for the genre. I don’t believe I’ve seen anything similar except in a single Star Wars EU novel.
Ultimately, though, the special effects provided good footage for the trailers, but it is not enough to truly save the movie. Skyline is a science fiction invasion movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be, whether it be found-footage, character study, thriller, or disaster movie. While there are some interesting choices in terms of the aliens themselves, the writing, acting, and overall plot are pointless, tensionless, and borderline absurd. It is simply not a good movie.
A clumsy script, unlikeable characters and a messy ending make this one ultimately forgettable.