Skyline (2010) Review
Skyline was directed by Colin and Greg Strause (Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, 16mm Mystery), written by Joshua Cordes (Chimera) and Liam O’Donnell (Beyond Skyline, Skylines), and stars Eric Balfour (Haven, 24), Scottie Thompson (Crown Vic, NCIS), Brittany Daniel (The Game, Sweet Valley High), Donald Faison (The Wave, Scrubs), David Zayas (Body Cam, Dexter), Crystal Reed (Teen Wolf, Incident in a Ghostland), and Neil Hopkins (Stargirl, Losing Control). It follows a group of friends in an apartment building as they try to survive an alien invasion.
The Plot: This movie is a curious case, as from all indications from the prerelease material the second feature from the Brothers Strause seemed to present a plot built on scientific naivety, but Skyline goes the less interesting route and offers up a barely-there story that doesn’t have much worth following.
Couple Jarrod (Balfour) and Elaine (Thompson) are on their way to L.A. to visit Jarrod’s longtime friend Terry (Faison) for his birthday. Some acquaintances are in order, as the main couple meet Terry’s girlfriend Candice (Daniel), his employee Denise (Reed), and colleague Ray (Hopkins) during his party. After everyone but the base characters leave the party, streaks of blue light fill the sky and quakes rumble the city. Ray takes a look into the light, which sucks him up into the sky. Skyline has a promising setup which makes the audience yearn to figure out the rules of the invasion, but that never comes.
For a long time, nothing else comes either, keeping the characters stuck in their apartment building until the 65-minute mark. Their plan is to get to Terry’s boat and go out to sea, as the aliens don’t appear to have an interest in the water, only the tons upon tons of people that reside in the city. They come across building manager Oliver (Zayas) who takes the place of one of the group members that gets killed, and the movie reverts itself back to that single room, where it stays for the rest of the runtime aside from a brief stint of military intervention.
Cordes and O’Donnell make Skyline a waiting game, but for all of the waiting that we and the characters do, we don’t learn much or get a substantial payoff.
The Characters: Los Angelenos are stereotyped for their cotton candy personalities: colourful and fluffy on the outside, but the veneer evaporates at the slightest dampening. That’s the case with this movie, which has barely anyone to root for.
Jarrod used to be part of a rap duo with Terry. Evidently, they went down different career paths, as Jarrod is struggling to make ends meet, as is told in a throwaway line of dialogue. It’s never expanded on as to why he stopped making music or what he even does in place of that; presumably, it’s to do with Elaine, but the script never addresses it.
Elaine and Jarrod seem to be a bad choice for each other, as they mostly argue over nothing. She’s the more conservative voice among them, opting to stay inside as long as possible until the invasion runs its course. The script tries to add some weight to her by revealing a pregnancy, but it comes off as a last-ditch effort on the writers’ part.
Terry continued down the rap path, paving the way for a lavish lifestyle of partying, industry contacts, and loads of cash. He’s the worst of the bunch, exemplifying the hollow nature of the characters via petty squabbles with Candice, cheating with Denise, who are both here to be eye candy and be played poorly, and making stupid decisions at almost every possible opportunity. Conversely, there’s Oliver, who’s just trying to do the right thing and survive as long as he can. He’s polite to his tenants, tries to help other survivors, and is the most proactive of all of the people involved.
If the movie wanted to focus on characters that mostly range between forgettable and grating, it should’ve gone for a darkly comedic atmosphere. Instead, we’re left to root for the aliens.
The Thrills: It’s a hard task to make an alien invasion boring, and Skyline never manages to make its moments of spectacle anything less than exciting, but it doesn’t have the budget to consistently entertain, hoping to fill the gaps with trivial interaction.
Some basic lore is inserted into Skyline’s screenplay, with the spherical units of blue light descending onto the city designed to lure the observers out into the open, followed on the next day by large-scale ships that pull up all who’ve been witness to the first wave. The light is more than just bait for the curious, as it takes over those who look into it, driving them unstoppably forward until they either get to the light or are snapped out of it by someone lucky or smart enough to have avoided the glow. It’s scary in its simplicity; being aware of what’s happening but being powerless to stop it.
Chases are the secondary facet of the movie’s thrills, but they’re more redundant than engaging, as the characters make multiple attempts to go elsewhere but are driven back into the same exact room every single time. The first time is exciting, with the characters encountering a multiple stories tall alien creature that stomps on their attempt and an autonomous drone-like alien that sucks out a person’s brain. Once this happens multiple times in the same environment, it loses its lustre, as it’s clear that new ideas are in short supply.
Between all of these, there are several halfhearted attempts at bringing character confrontations to a boil, such as the mention of Terry’s cheating which never goes anywhere, concocting an escape plan which almost goes somewhere, dwindling necessities like running water, food, and electricity, but that never goes anywhere either. By the time most of these elements have come into play, the final 25 minutes have arrived, making the suggestions clear in their intention to pad the runtime.
When the aliens are on-screen or at least thought of by the script, things kick into gear, but without much of that to go around until the final third, there are only repetitive chases and weak writing to carry the suspense.
The Technics: The Brothers Strause went their own way to create Skyline, a new IP that allowed for the usage of all the ideas they could come up with. Good ideas are certainly present, but the low budget-restricted their implementation.
Narrative constraints are clear, with the movie desperately trying to come up with ways to keep the characters and most of the events stuck in the apartment building. While the perspective change is interesting, viewing the invasion through the lens of people with no influence or relation to the situation, it’s the stranglehold the tepid script and budget have over the movie that keeps things surface level.
Skyline’s visual effects are still impressive over a decade since the film’s release. With only $10 million to make an alien invasion movie, they did quite well at creating a convincing spectacle, with wonderfully detailed CGI for the ships, creatures, skin changes from the effects of the blue light, and destruction. Almost every effects shot holds up just as well, if not better than most Marvel movies released before or since Skyline. Occasionally, practical effects show up, with one instance of the drone-like creature being made physically, and it looks fantastic.
The big problem with the first Skyline is that its effects and sound design are the only things worth remembering. That would be fine if they were the focus of the movie, but for the majority of the runtime, we’re stuck with a non-existent story, weak characters, and repetitive scenarios.