Having prepared myself for a huge budget, Hollywood-friendly, man vs. aliens epic, I found myself somewhat dumbfounded at the bizarre results offered up by the Brothers Strause’s Skyline (2010). On one hand, it is not only derivative of just about every major film of this kind to have emerged over the past 20 years; it’s actually guilty of wholesale robbery, lifting scenes and images directly from a series of movies, which we will come to later.
Skyline opens with a series of shots showing many a menacing blue light beaming down from the sky upon the city. We then flash back 15 hours to introduce the core group of characters who will subsequently be forced to endure the following alien invasion together. There are Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson), a young couple expecting a baby, and Terry (Donald Faison), Candice (Brittany Daniel) and Denise (Crystal Reed), forming a love triangle which is far too boring and irrelevant to go into detail with here. What unfolds over the next 90 minutes makes for, at best, uneven viewing and at worst, unforgivably bad and, at times, unintentionally hilarious viewing.
On the other hand, it brings an odd mixture of B-movie and indie flick sensibilities to a genre usually constricted to an exact formula; something that is certainly unexpected in light of the trailer and billboard shots used to promote the film.
It was only subsequent to watching Skyline that I discovered the shoestring budget on which the film was made. While $15,000,000 may sound like a lot of money, in the world of special effects laden blockbusters, this sum is virtually peanuts. For that reason, a certain amount of praise should be directed towards the Brothers Strause, as, for the most part, Skyline doesn’t look as cheap as its paltry budget would suggest. Where it does fall short, however, is through its unashamedly unoriginal approach to the design and creation of its aliens and space ships. The mother ships; Independence Day (1996), the smaller ships; War of the Worlds (2005) and the aliens rushing the streets; Cloverfield (2008).
Although aesthetically identical to the above-mentioned blockbusters, Skyline differs quite substantially with regards to its characterisation. Whereas the vast majority of alien invasion films possess characters of great heroism and protagonists who are able to topple entire alien civilisations, Skyline contains nothing of the sort. Instead, we see a group of evidently flawed individuals with no clue as to how to stop the escalating devastation. Yet these attempts at providing an indie ideology to proceedings are nowhere near enough to paper over the cracks and flaws of the film’s massive and numerous shortcomings.
The scenes, in which the group is running through the grounds of their apartments in slow motion, hold more in common with a spoof action movie than a tension-fuelled disaster film. Equally amusing is the laughably wooden dialogue that exists between the gang. Any attempts at creating even the slightest amount of character interaction or development fall flat, as a result of the unconvincing performances and the lazily thrown together screenplay.
It is these elements that lie firmly at the heart of Skyline’s failings. Had a little more attention been paid to the script and characters, the Brothers Strause may well have been on to something. But sadly, their pre-occupation with special effects and over-the-top action sequences inevitably leads to the film’s downfall. In many ways Skyline can be seen as a real missed opportunity to put a new spin on an all-too-familiar genre.