Skyline (2010)

Review first appeared in Sight & Sound, January 2011

Synopsis: Marina Del Ray, LA. In town to celebrate his old friend Terry’s birthday, New Yorker Jarrod is torn between news that his girlfriend Elaine is pregnant, and an offer to join Terry’s successful VFX company. In the early morning after Terry’s party, a full-scale alien invasion begins. Aurora-like blue lights fall out of the sky, mesmerising onlookers before drawing them up into spacecraft hovering overhead, while smaller, squid-like flying craft and flightless behemoths use powerful tentacles to mop up those left behind and to fight off any resistance.

Watching events unfold from Terry’s highrise condominium, Jarrod, Elaine, Terry, Terry’s girlfriend Candice and assistant Denise decide to flee for Terry’s yacht – but are attacked as they try to leave the building. With Denise dead and Terry taken, Jarrod, Elaine and Candice return to Terry’s apartment, joined by concierge Oliver. There they witness a hopeless dogfight between the US Air Force and the alien ships, which ends in a nuclear strike that merely angers the invading force while flattening much of LA. When Candice is drawn up by the light, Oliver chooses to blow himself and a behemoth up rather than be abducted. Meanwhile on the building’s rooftop, Jarrod and Elaine have several violent clashes with aliens, before being drawn up into the sky in one another’s embrace. Elaine awakens to see Jarrod’s brain being removed from his body. She screams as her pregnant belly is probed, and a monster recently fueled with Jarrod’s brain leaps to her defense.

Review: “You haven’t changed one bit,” says Elaine (Scottie Thompson) to her boyfriend Jarrod (Eric Balfour) as they look at photos of him clowning around with his long-time best friend Terry (Donald Faison). Elaine is pregnant, and wants Jarrod to become a responsible father (“that’s why you’re my hero”, she comments as Jarrod helps a mother with her airline baggage), but Jarrod is equally attracted by an invitation to join Terry’s visual effects crew in LA and the playboy lifestyle that comes with it. Thankfully the sort of intervention required to bring Jarrod’s dilemma into sharp focus arrives, a few hours later, in the form of an apocalyptic alien invasion – and after fewer than three days of large-scale abductions, perilous close encounters and last-ditch aerial dogfights, the human race will have been mostly reduced to food for thought, while Jarrod may well have changed for good.

Like Terry and his LA cohort, brothers Colin and Greg Strause also run a VFX firm (called Hydraulx), which has contributed to films such as Avatar, Iron Man 2 and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – and it is in the realm of spectacle that Skyline is most impressive, boasting over 900 VFX that bring to life a full-scale assault on LA by an array of imaginatively conceived and realised extra-terrestrial creatures. The Brothers Strause have done alien invasions before in their directorial debut AVP: Alien vs. Predator – Requiem (2007), but Skyline is a somewhat different monster. Entirely independently produced on a relatively small budget (c. $10 million), and shot ‘in house’ in and around Greg Strause’s own Marina Del Rey condominium, it shows humankind’s hopeless struggles against virtually unstoppable forces, all unfolding before a room with a view. First-time writers Joshua Cordes and Liam O’Donnell may sketch their characters with minimal nuance, but they show plenty of genre savvy, mixing up ideas from Independence Day (1996), Signs (2002), The War of the Worlds (2005), Cloverfield (2008), District 9 (2009) and even The Brain From Planet Arous (1957), while propelling their horrifically bleak vision to its bitter end. It is difficult to imagine where the sequel (already slated for 2012) can possibly go.

The aliens’ modus operandi for invasion becomes a metaphor for the film itself, which dazzles viewers into sitting back and enjoying the amazing light show, possibly at the expense of their own brains. Resistance is futile.

Anton Bitel

For my longer take on Skyline, see EyeforFilm

Anton Bitel