"Don’t Look Up!” is the boldly stated tagline to sci-fi drama Skyline. Although this refers to an invading alien force that ultimately ruin the human race’s day, it might just as easily serve as a warning to any potential cinema goers thinking about seeing this film – albeit with the removal of the “up”.
Directed by the Brothers Strause (them of Alien vs. Predator: Requiem “fame”) Skyline concerns itself with six friends staying in a Los Angeles skyscraper during an alien invasion. Using strange beams of blue light, which are sent down to the surface where they hypnotise anyone who looks at them, the mysterious extra-terrestrials appear to be abducting people and taking their brains. The subsequent running time involves our characters’ attempts to evade their captors and avoid becoming part of what seems to be an intergalactic frontal lobe buffet. Think Cloverfield meets Independence Day and you have the general idea. Or at least that’s what it’s trying desperately to be.
And that is pretty much it. As the deliberately ambiguous advertising may have hinted, anyone looking for anything more in the story department had better look elsewhere. Also anyone looking for any original ideas, character development and logic should probably follow. In fact, anyone looking for anything from Skyline other than a few well-designed creatures and some reasonable special effects should also join them.
Probably the film’s biggest flaw is the discernable lack of any likeable or memorable characters. The performances are routinely average at best but in fairness to the relatively unknown cast they are given very little to work with – namely any form of development or progression. Our protagonists serve merely as bystanders throughout the duration, only observing or reacting to the events that are out of their control. This is suitably demonstrated in one of the film’s few exciting sequences where they watch an aerial dog-fight between the US air force and the unfriendly ETs. Only once do they act proactively to try and escape from their situation and the end result is them winding up in the same room they just left!
Cloverfield demonstrated recently that when you put ordinary people into extraordinary circumstances you have to anchor the story with a simple narrative idea the audience can relate to – Get to a certain safe location or rescue a specific person - giving the audience something to root for. The best this bunch can come up with is to try and get to a boat and escape by water. Why a boat? “Because they’re not over the water!” answers de-facto leader Jarrod (Eric Balfour). This might have something to do with us not building our homes and buildings on the water but he seems to know something the audience doesn’t. So instead of heading towards, say sewers, tunnels, mountains – anything that may offer some form of cover and protection – our motley crew decide to head for the most open and exposed place possible. This may have not been too much of a problem if it was just one of their desperate ideas, but it remains their only goal for most of the film. It’s glaring failures in logic like this which make you find it hard to care about these characters and ultimately what happens to them. It’s not all human stupidity though - for most of the film the super-advanced, invading alien force is kept at bay by some retractable blinds.
To give credit where it’s due, the Brothers Strause do have a flair for monsters and SFX and it shows this is where they have focused their resources. What they fail to provide however is what this film is sorely lacking – a consistent tone and direction. For the first hour Skyline is pitched completely straight and manages to avoid most of the overblown clichés and outlandish dialogue found in your average blockbuster. Whilst our characters hide in the apartment the film even manages to generate some effective moments of tension that work very well. However after putting in the effort to establish this mood the directors then let it slowly evaporate and move into a more outlandish, overblown final third where it becomes simply a dumb pastiche of any number of sci-fi action movies of the past.
This whole turgid affair drags itself towards a ludicrous conclusion that seems to be crying out for a sequel - yet is so at odds with the rest of the film it’s more like a last final show of the finger at the audience by the directors. It’s seems like they have made one last ditch effort in the hope of generating some excitement or a shock. It’s spectacularly misjudged and will surely only serve to confuse, annoy or even anger people in equal measure. What we’re ultimately left with is an emotionally empty movie with a stack of unanswered questions roughly the size of an invading alien mother ship. A sequel has been threatened by the directors – although it’s unlikely anyone will care about the answers. One has to question why the aliens chose this planet in the first place - if this film is representative of our fragile species, pickings are going to be pretty slim at the brain buffet.