1.5 out of 5
The Canadian warrior-poet “Rowdy” Roddy Piper once cautioned: “You don't throw rocks at a man with a machine gun.” But the feeble armed forces of Earth may as well be hurling stones at the latest seemingly invincible armada of extraterrestrial marauders who have come to harvest this pale blue dot we call home. In Skyline the unnamed bio-organic menace is here to suck out our brains. Seriously, that's why they are here. Never mind the fact that it is beyond stupid for an intelligent, advanced species to design their technology to be solely reliant on the brains of other sentient beings to operate. Aliens who have come to suck out our brains? Is it this the 1950s? Dear God, has Ed Wood risen from the grave?! I almost wish he had. At least then Skyline would be amusing in a campy way. Instead this time we have the Brothers Strause, the fraternal directing duo whose only other film to date was the abominable Alien VS Predator: Requiem. The end result of their combined genius? A movie that I can only accurately describe as the horrible love child of District 9 and Deep Rising.
What you have to understand about Skyline, aside from the fact it's bloody atrocious, the directors and producer/writer Liam O'Donnell did not make their bones as filmmakers. They did most of their notable work in visual effects. As a filmmaker myself I fully recognize that VFX artists are both vital to the modern film industry and immensely talented, but designing and creating an effects sequence is different than telling a compelling story. Or making a compelling film for that matter. This is why the effects sequences in this movie are very inventive, exciting and well done despite a tiny $10 million dollar budget. Mere chump change in the world of effects films. This also explains why the actual “movie” part of this film is so terrible. Due to the heavy special effects the practical scenes are limited to a boring, white walled apartment building in downtown LA.
While the creature design is inventive, the art design is lacklustre and unappealing. The filmmakers also skimped heavily on the cast. The biggest name is Donald Faison, late of sitcom Scrubs, and the lead is Eric Balfour. Not familiar with that name? He played Milo on 24. All of the cast are perfectly serviceable actors but none are strong enough to carry a film or make us care about these characters trapped in a besieged apartment building. A situation tailored to tap into basic human empathy. Also, I suspect the characters are supposed to be far younger than the performers playing them. I suppose it isn't entirely their fault. The script is very weak. The characters are unbelievably two-dimensional and the dialogue is flat. It would take a very charismatic presence to lift this script above the mire. Sadly none of the cast are.
Skyline is yet more proof that bells and whistles can only augment a strong story and good script, not replace them. District 9 was another indie small budget sci-fi which relied heavily on VFX. It too was helmed by a director with a visual effects background, Neill Blomkamp. But it had a proper writer, Terri Tatchell, and the guiding hand of an experienced filmmaker, producer Peter Jackson. The story was simple but thoughtful. The characters realistic and sympathetic, the performances excellent from a cast of largely inexperienced South African unknowns. District 9 is a really good film. Skyline is not.
Just as importantly, if as a director you want to take the Michael Bay route and pummel your audience's critical thinking into submission, you have to do a lot better than Skyline. The VFX are inventive but the small budget means they lack the polish of the big budget spectacles. They aren't enough to erase how dull the rest of the film is.
Final Verdict: Were it not for the obvious work and talent put into the visual effects, I would totally write this film off.