“Man, Cloverfield would have been great if all the leads had just been bigger douchebags. And if nobody ever left the building.”
That’s how I imagine the spark of the idea for Skyline came to The Brothers Strause and screenwriters Joshua Cordes and Liam O’Donnell. And then they pretty much never developed it any more from there.
Actually that’s unfair. Skyline has one terrific, fresh feeling idea, and it’s been the center of the marketing campaign - people being hoovered up from the streets of Los Angeles into a giant, hovering beetle-like spacecraft. Everything else it steals from The Matrix and Starship Troopers and War of the Worlds. But those images of people flying through the air! It’s a good money shot, and if it hasn’t been ruined for you by endless repetition in commercials, trailers and posters, you’ll get a real thrill from seeing it for the first time.
The rest of the FX, while horribly derivative, are excellent. As they should be; The Strause Brothers run an FX company called Hydraulx, and Skyline‘s
supposed 1 million dollar price tag
(I’m getting a lot of feedback that this is wrong. It was cheap, let’s put it that way.) probably comes from them getting all the FX work wholesale. As a demo reel for Hydraulx, Skyline is impressive if unimaginative, and there are lots and lots of bright daylight scenes of giant monsters and fighter planes and alien space craft and weird alien squid beasts. They look great, and I would totally hire Hydraulx to do my FX work if I had FX worked that needed doing.
But the rest of it. Oh, the rest of it! It’s terrible. Actually, many of the FX scenes are terrible as well - the FX looks great, but everything happening on screen around the FX is bone headed or moronic or poorly shot. And that’s pretty much the film in a nutshell: bone headed, moronic and poorly shot. And terribly acted as well, just for good measure. There’s not a single believable moment in Skyline, and I don’t mean that I couldn’t believe in an alien invasion. I mean that not one human being in the film comes across like a human being of any sort, that none of the dialog rings true or is delivered well and that some of the actors can’t even exit an airplane convincingly.
Eric Balfour, an actor who might be a living saint in real life but always comes across like a raging douchebag to me on screen, is coming to LA with his secretly pregnant girlfriend. Eric’s best friend - Donald Faison from Scrubs - happens to be a big time special effects artist, and it’s his birthday and he’s throwing a party at his sweet penthouse crib. Keep in mind that The Strause Brothers are FX artists and that they shot the entire film inside one of their sweet penthouse cribs and you begin to really get a sense of the deep, auterist terrible going on here. This movie isn’t just bad, it’s heartfelt bad.
After the party the aliens attack, and the movie is really off to the races. Nobody behaves in a realistic way, making choices that are just lunkheaded and not even bothering to check the fucking news. The whole film feels really pre-9/11 in that nobody involved seems to understand what happens when a disaster occurs, how phone exchanges get immediately overloaded and how the emergency broadcast system works and so on and so forth. Anyway, the aliens have this blue light that’s supposedly beautiful and that, when you look into it, makes you into a technoorganic person like Warlock from The New Mutants or something. It’s never adequately explained. After the first wave of attacks, when I guess most people are sucked up into the sky, the big spaceships that now hover over LA then spit out squids like from The Matrix, as well as big clomping aliens who seem to be based on the Rancor and also the bugs from Starship Troopers; maybe The Strouse Brothers are just homaging and they’re called Phil Tippett Beasts. These squids and monsters do the dirty work of picking up the stragglers.
And that’s most of the movie. We have our heroes, all just one Ed Hardy shirt away from ultimate douchebaggery, standing around in this penthouse, occasionally gawking at something offscreen (and in a really hilarious 50s monster movie way, too, like the Strauses didn’t feel comfortable compositing their shots), and then kind of arguing as much as the writers could stand to bother writing. None of the arguments make sense or are that well thought out or have any meaning. Maybe these characters are meant to be shallow dopes so as to keep the writers from having to really do that much work and consider more survival plans than “Stay in the apartment” or “Escape to the marina” (which doesn’t work once and then is amazingly brought up a second time).
It’s almost a shame, because there are a lot of things you could do when you’ve set a movie in an enclosed space like a 20 story apartment building. There could be other residents to interact with, or sewers to escape through or apartments to loot for supplies or something. And even if your budget were low and you were forced to keep everybody in one room (with an occasional trip to the pool area and the roof), you could at least have compelling characters who could bounce off of each other in interesting, dramatic ways. Well, at least Skyline has big spaceships!
Everybody is terrible in the film. Eric Balfour delivers a performance that honestly feels like it phased in from another universe. I don’t really know what he’s doing half the film, and he’s definitely at a different level from everybody else. I suspect he was sometimes digitally added to scenes where he’s having conversations with people. Faison actually walks away mostly unscathed, but that could be just because I tend to like him. Sure, he’s an unrepentant jackass and he’s got zero character beyond being a jackass (a jackass who I suspect the filmmakers don’t realize is a jackass), but he’s got a nice smile! I don’t watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, so I didn’t know that Brittany Daniel plays a tranny on that show. She’s also playing one here. A tranny who spent most of her teens and twenties streetwalking. She looks rough, and her character, such as it is, seems to boil down to “horrible.” Scottie Thompson plays Balfour’s girlfriend, and she spends the whole movie looking like somebody needs to press the reset button on her back. She’s doing a real Teddy Ruxpin thing here.
Then there’s David Zayas. I won’t pretend like I think Zayas is an actor who has been denied Oscar gold, but I think he’s usually a decent character actor. Here, though… it’s like he’s the only person in the movie who gets that the movie is terrible, and thus he’s playing it up ten levels above everybody else. It’s funny but it’s grating, and he also ends up having one characteristic: he’s horrible as well. Everybody’s horrible, really, and you’re just waiting for them all to die.
Early in the film Balfour gets technorganized by the alien ships but recovers. The whole fucking film keeps reminding us of this, with him having some kind of spreading infection or something, and you keep thinking ‘Now is finally when this nonsense will pay off.’ And it doesn’t. Again and again it doesn’t. Until it does. It pays off in the last minutes of the movie, and while I don’t want to spoil it for you, I will say that it pays off in the most batshit hilarious and ludicrous way possible. It’s rare that a movie totally catches me by surprise, and the ending of Skyline does that. It does it through sheer stupidity, but it surprised me nonetheless. Kudos to you, Skyline, for doing what hundreds of other films with functioning brains could not do.
And in some ways the inane ending of Skyline almost makes the whole movie worth it. The film is, without a doubt, terrible. It’s amateurishly written and the camerawork is terrible. You wonder why scenes are utterly unlit or why parts of the frame appear to be out of focus, and why everything looks like it was shot on a consumer grade Flip cam in the first half of the movie. And there’s no pace to the film, which just sort of drags along from scene to scene. The storytelling is hamfistedly television in nature, including one scene where the camera zooms in on Balfour’s infected side, the music swells… and it seemingly goes to commercial. The film also opens with a completely unneccessary flashforward that feels like it belongs on The Event or something. So yeah, every minute of this film is badly written and poorly acted and directed without skill or ability. But it’s a lot of fun!
Yes, this is a genuinely so-bad-it’s-good movie. This film is crushingly awful, tedious (the aliens are unkillable, which really becomes a drag very, very quickly), and moronic, but I was often howling with laughter. There’s a scene where Balfour and Faison are trying to open a locked, heavy steel door by pulling on the handle. Not even turning it. Just pulling. It’s like no one involved in the film understands ‘doors.’ There’s a scene where the pregnant girlfriend, in the middle of an apocalyptic alien invasion and after being partially technorganized, gets upset because someone is smoking a cigarette and THAT is her biggest concern for her fetus. There is a scene where Eric Balfour is established as the hero of the movie because he helps a lady get her bag out of the overhead bin on a plane. There’s the fact that the movie keeps using the same three locations, which begins to lend it the air of kids making a VHS cinematic epic in their parent’s back yard. And then there’s why the aliens are on Earth, which is just hilarious and retarded and amazing. Skyline is an inept, horrible piece of shit, but it’s the kind of inept horrible piece of shit you keep hoping comes along.
And in the end, what’s the moral of Skyline? Simple: Just because you can make a movie doesn’t mean you should. But if you do, please make it as amazingly bad as this one.