REVIEW: Skyline Gives Brain-Eating Aliens a Bad Name
If the trailers for Skyline made you believe this picture might be a reasonably entertaining space-invasion thriller, with at least semi-dazzling visual effects, actors who make a decent attempt to impersonate believable human beings and a script that isn't scraped from the very bottom of the screenwriting barrel, you could be forgiven: The advertising for Skyline makes it look like a real movie, the sort of thing you might be willing to check out just for fun if you happen to have a spare 10 bucks (or so) lying around.
Let this be another lesson in the illusory magnetism of advertising: Skyline is a piece of junk, even in a movie climate littered with expensive -- though sometimes fun -- junkiness. The guilty party behind this monstrosity are Colin Strause and Greg Strause -- also known as the Brothers Strause -- two visual-effects experts whose credits as effects designers or supervisors include lots of movies you've probably heard of (Avatar, Titanic, The Nutty Professor) and who have also worked on videos for acts like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Linkin Park and Nickelback. In addition, they've directed one previous full-length film, the 2007 AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator -- Requiem, Part XVIII -- OK, that's not the actual title, but it's pretty close.
As Skyline opens, boyfriend-and-girlfriend duo Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson) have just flown into Los Angeles to visit one of Jarrod's old pals, Terry (Donald Faison), who's made good and lives in a luxurious high-rise. That night, after a wild party in Terry's crib, Los Angeles is ambushed by blue lights that drop mysteriously from the sky. As Jarrod quickly learns, if you look at these lights directly for any length of time, blue veins begin to creep across your skin like bad tattoo work, and your eyes go all cataracty and stuff. Then, the light sucks you in and that's the end of you.
It turns out that these lights emanate from massive creatures that are also crablike spaceships; or maybe these are just creatures inside of other creatures that resemble spaceships -- it's impossible to tell. Some of them look like mechanical jellyfish-type critters; others are octopi-like, with blue lights on the tips of their waving, probing tentacles. All of these predatory alien lo mein owe a debt, as most movie creatures do these days, to the mother-monster of the Alien movies, and though they're rather cool-looking, in a way, they're actually very sad, lonely little creatures. They've come to Earth, War of the Worlds-style, to decimate humanity -- they feed on human brains, it turns out, so they actually do have a motive. But no one has bothered to write an actual movie around them. You can't blame them for being pissed off.
The premise of Skyline isn't terrible in itself. But the writers, Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell, haven't troubled themselves to do anything with it. Very little happens in Skyline other than the usual generic stuff: The creatures feel around in parking garages to yank out, and then eat, their prey; the National Guard shoots at them, but can't kill them; "bad" people who fornicate outside of their regular partnerships meet a nasty end; characters stare blankly out windows and at each other as they declaim lines like "There's something out there!" and "We don't know what they're capable of!" And for what it's worth, the ending borrows somewhat, and not particularly well, from District 9.
The appeal of a movie like Skyline is the promise of watching big, snazzy-looking special-effecty beasties destroy whole cities, ruthlessly and remorselessly. And Skyline does, at the barest level, offer that much. But the whole thing feels like a very expensive and insulting sham, an enterprise built on the idea that you can give audiences trash and, if that trash is big enough and loud enough, they just won't know any better. I kept waiting for something interesting or suspenseful or creepy to happen in Skyline -- the minutes ticked by very slowly, and that payoff never came. The movie does have a downer of an ending, perhaps to make us think it's somehow deep. But it doesn't cut very deep at all; it barely skims the surface. Skyline may strive for magnificence. But to achieve that, it would first have to make an impression. And all it can do is make noise.