Plenty of substandard genre fare gets released every year but few efforts from 2010 took the shellacking that Skyline received. One would think a $10 million dollar effort made by FX guys would charm the genre crowd but that was not the case here. It stiffed on its opening weekend and had to endure flaming arrows from professional critics and fans alike. This is unfortunate because despite an unwieldy final act, much of Skyline plays well in a fun, unpretentious ‘programmer’ sort of way – and it’s certainly trying harder than the crappy remakes (ahem, ahem) genre fans endured during 2010.
The plot is a simple but effective b-movie version of a “high concept” premise. After a quick in media res “aliens attack” prologue, the film cuts back to the actual beginning of its story: struggling artist Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and his significant other Elaine (Scottie Thompson) fly to L.A. so they can visit his successful showbiz pal Terry (Donald Faison), who is angling to get Jarrod to move out there and join his crew. Terry also some issues of his own, like trying to juggle trophy wife Candice (Brittany Daniels) with romantically inclined assistant Denise (Crystal Reed). Meanwhile, Elaine reveals to Jarrod that she has become pregnant.
However, all these subplots are rendered moot in the wee hours of the following morning when alien spaceships fly down from the sky and begin snatching hapless humans up. Our heroes find themselves trapped in Terry’s high-rise apartment complex as they try to figure out how to escape or survive with the help of the building’s landlord, Oliver (David Zayas). Unfortunately for them, the spaceships sending out their own smaller sentries to look for survivors.
In other words, it’s basically Assault On Precinct 13 (or Night Of The Living Dead) but set in a high-rise with aliens as the faceless attackers instead of gangstas or zombies. There are also echoes of Independence Day and the Spielberg version of War Of The Worlds, not to mention some visual effects that seem to be referencing V and District 9. This highly referential setup is forgivable because the creators clearly love the sci-fi and horror stuff they are referencing (directors Colin and Greg Strouse come from an FX background, as do writers Joshua Cordes and Liam O’Donnell) and the high-concept take on alien invasion is a fun one. It’s not the most original thing to come down the pike but the first act sets things up in a crisp, efficient manner and the second act maintains a solid flow of setpieces – the best might be an alien attack in an underground garage during an abortive escape attempt.
Unfortunately, the second half of Skyline begins to lose its grip on the plot threads, resulting in a third act that loses control of the story altogether. Without getting too heavily into spoilers, the filmmakers decide to go all-out with action and over-the-top visual and makeup FX during their finale. It’s a bit jarring because the first and second acts dole out the skirmishes and effects in a controlled style befitting the claustrophobic nature of the premise.
When the action gets pumped up, the suspension of disbelief drops as the action becomes silly and contrived in a way that favors outlandish spectacle over storytelling. For example, there’s an eye-rolling amount of near-misses engineered for our survivors so the filmmakers can trot out their full range of special effects. There’s also a bizarre coda that seems to be the beginning of an entirely different film instead of a proper ending for this one.
As a result, Skyline ends up being a misfire – but it’s a noble misfire, one that works pretty hard to keep its audience engaged and has fun with the trappings of its chosen genre. The characterizations are stock stuff but they are decently enacted (Balfour makes a solid lead actor and Zayas lends credible support), the aliens are well-designed, the pacing is snappy and there are several worthy setpieces along the way. Simply put, Skyline might have some significant flaws but the genre fan could do much worse – and it’s more entertaining than its poor reception would lead you to believe.