Review: Skyline (2010)

Warning: Spoilers included

Skyline, produced and directed independently by the Strause brothers, has been largely lambasted by critics and fans alike. Most contend that it has low production values and that it would have been better suitable for a straight-to-DVD release, or a television special instead of a full-blown theatrical release, an unwarranted waste of time and money on the part of an audience that felt cheated by the experience. The production though, is not the issue with this film, but rather what it has been presented as, in contrast to what it actually is.

Skyline entails the travails of Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson), a couple entangled in a first long-term relationship, on the very verge of parenthood, who come to visit their friends in LA.

After a ‘livin’ la vida loca’ evening, a booze-filled party awakes to a full-blown alien invasion. Perching from a window in a new high-rise building set at the centre of a suburban landscape gives us a birds eye-view of shiny lights and tentacled creatures skimming the ground and the skies like hungry yet enchanting lampreys, intent on literally devouring all of humanity.

Jarrod is immediately affected by the “light” in the very beginning, and while he is not plucked to an alien platform, he shows signs of a physical metamorphosis while fighting for the survival of his now pregnant girlfriend.

Skyline is not really a thriller, or an action film. Instead, it takes the cue from mocumentary-style filmmaking such as J.J. Abrams’ similarly-themed Cloverfield. It too relies on younger characters that would appeal to ticket-purchasing audiences, shaky camera angles, and what the filmmakers deem, I suppose, “realistic settings” for the events taking place.

While the love of CG and special effects is evident in Skyline, it being the forte of the Strause brothers, the character development (and that includes the character of the aliens themselves) significantly falls short. This especially considering that the story itself is rooted in soft romance. Skyline you see, is not so much about friends surviving an alien invasion, but about a couple whose love can transcend all obstacles, a surprisingly romantic and sappy twist displayed by characters who are essentially stripped of any depth to begin with.

The alien creatures are really the heart of it all. Tentacled, shiny, floating and complex, the creatures take variety of sizes, shapes on ground and in the sky. Most are homing back to a large ship, a massive devourer showcased in the trailer as a vacuum intent on sucking in every human body available. The creatures seek out their prey based on sound, and similar to lampreys, they use shiny, mesmerizing lights to attract it. They regenerate even in the face of a nuclear explosion, cut or a bullet, and their seemingly immortal bodies seek out not so much the human flesh, but the brain and the spinal cord of an average human.

There is no offered explanation for this neural-tissue diet. The creatures are predatory, defensive and hungry. And they dispense the light onto ripped out brains with still attached spinal cords, stuffing them expertly into vaginal-like openings for reasons unknown.

At the very end, our protagonists perish by being sucked onto the mothership and his too may be one of the reasons why the film remained so unpopular with American audiences. Upon reaching the killing floors, Elaine watches Jerrod’s dispatching while we gaze in awe at an alien interpretation of Fordism. Jerrod’s brain isn’t just consumed, we learn, but coopted into a body of an alien berserker-like creature. In a twist of events opening its doors to an animated, CG sequel, Jerrod’s mind, now in control of the berserker body, defends Elaine and their unborn child. Love conquers all, we learn.

And that’s nipping at the problem that is Skyline: cardboard characters to which we have little or no sympathy for and too much flailing by aliens who appear with little or no context. Skyline leaves too many unanswered questions but it also presents us with an unfinished narrative suffering from an identity crisis: is it an action film or a romantic survival story? It fails to perform as either position, resulting in something akin to mediocrity, or even less than that.