Reaching For The Sky
(Skyline, Colin and Greg Strause, USA, 2010, 92 mins)
Pillars of blue light pierce the night sky over LA and crash towards the earth. Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson) are awakened, believing the ethereal rays to be the morning sun creeping through the shutters of the penthouse they are guests in. When the room begins to shudder Jarrod suspects something may be amiss and moves to the living room to check it out. There he finds Denise (Crystal Reed) in hysterics, and is afforded a better view of the light source. Suddenly he is drawn towards it. Seemingly hypnotised, his eyes glazed over and his veins throbbing red and piercing the surface of his skin, he makes his way towards the light.
These are the opening moments of Skyline, the latest addition to the alien invasion movie canon from Colin and Greg Strause. These opening moments are filled with tension and intrigue as we, like Jarrod, are drawn in immediately. The next fifteen minutes are then spent dismantling this initial interest and making us not so much not care about these characters as actively wish to see them slaughtered at the hands of the extra terrestrial gate crashers in the most painful and prolonged manner possible.
At this point we travel fifteen hours back in time and join Jarrod and Elaine on their flight to LA. Jarrod is going to visit his College buddy Terry (Donald Faison) who is now a big time special effects guy in Hollywood. We are afforded a glimpse of Terry’s extravagant lifestyle and see he and Jarrod share the kind of effortless rapport that would put Laurel and Hardy to shame…sarcasm aside the chemistry between the pair is awful, and the same could be said for Jarrod and Elaine. It is no coincidence that Balfour is the common denominator here as his performance is at the heart of everything that is wrong with the film. He is a terrible actor; there are no two ways about it. He is neither likeable nor believable and, given the weak supporting cast, is far from capable of carrying a blockbuster movie. We then witness Terry’s big party (perhaps the first time a party in an LA penthouse has been made to look really, really shit) and learn that Terry is cheating on his partner Candice (Brittany Daniel) with the aforementioned Denise (a fact that will interest exactly no-one).
That brings us back to where we began, the alien invasion, and it is at this point that Skyline begins to display some moments that we can actually enjoy. First of all the CGI is excellent, the aliens are both imaginatively designed and look real. The impression that the spacecraft and the creatures that emerge from them are organic and at one with each other is unsettling, and the various methods the creatures have for annihilating their victims are disgusting and disturbing in equal measure. Disturbing too is the sight of thousands of people being drawn towards the spacecraft courtesy of the light pillars, and this proves to be the film’s most enduring image. The brother’s Strause obviously have a creative eye, as their work in the visual effects department of some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters shows, and this is expressed both in the look of the film and in some sequences towards the end, particularly a slow motion pan from the rooftop Jarrod and Elaine find themselves on which perfectly displays the carnage inflicted by the aliens, as well as their almost god-like invincibility.
The unlimited power that the aliens possess is something that marks Skyline as different to most films of the genre. These are not creatures that can be defeated by a computer virus (hang your head in shame Independence Day) or by water (I’m looking at you Signs). These aliens cannot even be defeated by a nuclear missile, and it is this invulnerability that makes them such a terrifying prospect. It also, however, leads to a problem. From quite early on it becomes clear that our characters will not be able to fight back, and with a lack of escape options we are forced to watch them whine and complain while trapped in the penthouse for extended periods of time. Had the cast been interesting and not a group of Z-listers and TV extras this may have provided an emotional core to contrast the film’s violence. Instead we are left thinking “oh will you hurry up and get massacred” from the film’s opening to its incomprehensible and laughable ending.
While Skyline is in no danger of joining the ranks of classic sci-fi/action films, it certainly is not a total write off. The cast is poor, there is little to nothing in the way of story development, but the action sequences are well done, and the aliens are genuinely pretty scary. Colin and Greg Strause are young men, and there is enough evidence her to suggest that they will go on to make better films than Skyline. At the same time it is hard not to wish the film had a more experienced director at the helm as, with a touch more meat on the bones of the story to add to the superb visuals the brothers Strause provide, this could have been a far better film.