When the first trailer for Skyline debuted, it looked impressive as hell. Clearly, this was a film that knew how to stretch a dollar. Or ten million of them, to be more accurate. That’s to be expected, since they are veteran SFX artists who’ve worked on films like Avatar, Titanic, and 300. Unfortunately, the expertise of directors/brothers Colin and Greg Strause only goes so far as the special effects.
Skyline gets right to the point, opening up with mysterious blue lights coming out of the sky over Los Angeles. In a penthouse apartment, we watch as one guy wakes up, sees the light, pulls up the shade, and is drawn towards it until it seemingly pulls him in and he disappears. Sounds like a promising opening, right? And then the brothers Strause make a massive mistake and turn back the clock 15 hours so give us pointless, alien-free backstory on the occupants of the apartment. This is a huge mistake, as it not only takes the audience away from the much more interesting alien invasion and forces our attention instead on the dull human drama. We’re never really given a reason to care about a group of people who are never fully fleshed out as characters.
There’s our hero, Jarrod (Eric Balfour). He’s kind of bland; the closest thing he has to a personality trait is that he’s very devoted to his newly-pregnant girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson). Being pregnant is the extent of her characterization, unless you count that she hates L.A. They’re in town for his best friend Terry’s birthday. Terry (Donald Faison) is a very successful visual FX artist, and probably a stand-in for the directors. His girlfriend Candice (Brittany Daniel) is kind of bitchy, and his assistant Denise (Crystal Reed) isn’t above sleeping with her boss. Collectively, there might be a personality among this group, but as individuals, they’re pretty blank. The only cast member who makes much of an impression is David Zayas (Dexter) as the building’s concierge. Unfortunately, he gets much less screen time than most of the others. This wouldn’t be a problem, except it’s a good half-hour between the opening and the time we get back to the alien invasion, and nearly all of it is spent waiting for the aliens to show up. Once they do, we still spend most of our time inside the apartment, watching way more interesting things happen outside.
Skyline is partly handicapped by its limited budget. Although the budget doesn’t mean that the special effects are lacking, it does force the film to adopt a smaller scope than the invasion deserves. Most of the Earth’s population is abducted either through the blue lights at the beginning, or vacuumed up en masse by the alien ships when they land. Something like 99% of the people (or at least those in cities) are taken, but aside from a couple of quick shots late in the film, we don’t get to experience the creepy emptiness of a major city seemingly abandoned. Instead, we get to watch a group of people watch the invasion through a telescope.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy parts of Skyline. As I said, the special effects are great, and it presents a unique view of an alien invasion. I like the idea of humans being mass-abducted like this, as opposed to most alien invasion movies where the aliens pretty much destroy everything upon their arrival. The aliens have a pretty cool look to them as well, with multiple types being seen. Most impressive is the massive one that stands several stories tall. They can easily crush cars beneath them, nimbly jump across city blocks, and even have some sort of tentacle they shoot out to pull in people. And I do have a certain appreciation for a movie in which mankind is completely screwed during a fight for their survival. Or are we? The weird ending raises a lot of questions, but it seems that we’re supposed to wait for the sequel to find out the answers. That’s the most frustrating thing about this movie: in the end, it feels just as empty and hollow as anything Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay would do for 10 times as much money.