BEYOND SKYLINE Review: Frank Grillo Destroys All Monsters

The DTV sequel to a sci-fi movie nobody liked is a total ass-kicker.

Beyond Skyline is the type of motion picture that nukes a few blocks of Los Angeles, features Starship Trooper-esque vagina aliens who eat people's brains, and has Frank Grillo deliver a woman's baby aboard a spaceship, all in the first half hour or so. Then its American protagonists literally crash land in Laos and look to rebels, still living in huts and tunnels equipped with traps left over from the Vietnam War, to save them from this new marauding technological force. It literalizes the original notion behind Star Wars (which was conceived as a protest picture), and then transmutes that audacious idea into a relentless DTV action romp, never letting up for the total 105-minute runtime. In case you needed me to hard sell you beyond that - which, if you do, I'm honestly not sure why you're even reading this website in the first place - Beyond Skyline includes a fucking kaiju battle in its climactic reel. This is no joke B-Movie spectacle, beamed straight into your living room without a dose of irony, and we're here for it. 

Only freshman feature director Liam O'Donnell's sequel doesn't look like a B-Movie at all. Sure, there's some janky CGI blood squibs, and the interiors of the alien craft show the production's seams every once in a while, but O'Donnell's follow up to the '10 Strause Brothers Independence Day knock off (which came fifteen years too late and forgot to be any good) takes the James Cameron route. Embracing its genre movie roots while milking each dollar of Beyond Skyline's $20 million budget (upping the ante in every imaginable way), it makes 'Nam-subtext text while cinematographer Christopher Probst (Mindhunter) stops to admire the fact that he's shooting a good chunk of this movie in Indonesia (standing in for Laos). It's a real "Corman School" approach that gifts the production a level of value well beyond its means, making wise, aesthetically-pleasing decisions like setting the humans' final stand against this invading, grey matter sucking horde on the steps of Yogyakarta's Prambanan Temples. 

Casting Frank Grillo as Mark - the LAPD cop who's been taking time off to hit the bottle following the death of his wife - was another wise decision. Grillo's got a really wonderful screen presence, and enough chops to discover nuance in what could've otherwise been a one note genre movie "hero" role. His relationship with his violent, lawless son (Jonny Weston) feels real for the few scenes they share before the shit hits the fan. They're just two guys left alone in the world due to an unforseen tragedy, but Mark can't keep bailing the kid out every time he breaks another jabroni's jaw. When the aliens invade and suck the two up into their ship, Grillo switches over into full action movie mode, bringing his muscled physicality to scenes of scaling walls and evading the hulking, robotic beasts who pilot this biomechanical saucer. Between this and Wheelman, Grillo's really finding his niche in these smaller cheap thrill showcases, flexing in more ways than one. 

The team at Hydraulx VFX work overtime to really bring these Lovecraftian nightmares from the sky to life, crafting mixes of practical man-in-suit performance and digital tomfoolery that are just as impressive as anything you've seen in the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe installment. Whether they're the towering monstrosities stomping through cities and jungles, or the smaller iterations that pilot these mechs from inside their cockpit skulls, these creatures are insanely convincing, getting into hand-to-hand skirmishes with our human survivors, their red and blue eyes glowing LED insectoid lights. Because there are men actually playing these monsters, each has personality, especially when an ally is discovered in one of the aliens, its origins allowing it to be sympathetic to the plight of these abducted flesh suits. 

Once the movie literally crashes in Laos, O'Donnell introduces another element that takes Beyond Skyline completely over the top: martial arts masters Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian (of Gareth Evans' Raid duology). Both play survivors on opposite sides of the law, whom Mark encounters while trying to get the baby he delivered - who keeps mysteriously aging years over the course of days - to a doctor. Unlike The Force Awakens (which also cast the two superlative fighters and then did absolutely nothing with their unique talents), O'Donnell's smart enough to let them do what the audience wants to see them do more than anything else: throw down in wild fisticuffs and knife fights with these intergalactic opponents. Beyond Skyline is unapologetically R-rated, and while the violence never reaches the heights of their previous Indonesian Silat classics, they're still allowed to lay the smack down on these spaced invaders, spilling black blood with multiple machete stabs. 

Almost everyone is going to see Beyond Skyline on their home video set up rather than in a proper theater, and that's a crying shame. O'Donnell's film has as much (if not more) visual panache than the average blockbuster, for a fraction of the cost. But beyond that, this Skyline sequel seems like it would absolutely kill with the right audience. There are enough fist pumping "holy shit" moments in this one installment to fill a whole trilogy. It's as if O'Donnell recognizes the reputation of the picture he's following up, and beefed up the ludicrous spectacle quotient as a means of combatting any sort of 1:1 comparison. This isn't the Skyline we know and hate; this is a new Skyline for fans who also watch hyper-violent nightmare fuel like Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning after mainlining old school Hong Kong action cinema. So, even if you're watching O'Donnell's film on your couch, you better strap it in. Beause Beyond Skyline's looking to earn the title of Modern Face Melter, and it might actually get there.