(M) Eric Balfour, Donald Faison

In the area of top shelf effects the talent of the Brothers Strause (Greg and Colin) Strause — whose special effects company Hydraulx did some of the effects in Avatar and Iron Man 2 —is undeniable. But story, script and direction seems to be of less interest in Skyline, their follow-up to the equally risible Alien vs Predator: Requiem.

This genre mash up of a film is big on flashy special effects with zero substance.

Aping every genre sci-fi film from Cloverfield to District 9 to War of the Worlds to Independence Day, this is nothing if not a great show reel for some excellent effects work.

But its independent feature roots show, with clumsy television-style cinematography and the fact the whole film is shot in and around one location: an LA apartment block.

Even the script, with its useless character introduction (which actually has the gall to be subtitled “15 hours earlier” – the sort of clumsy plot device used in episodic television), adds nothing to this highly-derivative piece of filmmaking.

Those who are drawn to the cinema based on the flashy trailer should beware: the trailer is a total misrepresentation of the finished product.

Clearly the Brothers Strause were rather taken with the image in the trailer and poster — millions of people being sucked into the bowels of an alien war craft — but sadly their film doesn’t live up to that promise.

It starts circling the drain from the moment we meet Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and his girlfriend Elaine “15 hours earlier” on a plane to hook up with Terry (Donald Faison), who clearly is famous — because he has a personal assistant — but we’re never sure for what.

This introduction is so pointless that it has you wanting the serious alien mayhem advertised in the trailer to start pronto. The characters are so uniformly unlikeable that you start picking who should go first.

Jarrod and Elaine join Terry’s party, get drunk and wake up to the mysterious blue light that is abducting people — cue the end of the world. Which, it has to be mentioned, is about 25 minutes too late. Making us suffer through the soapy dialogue is a major failing of the script.

Whereas films this one apes offer commentary about the fragility of life, fate, humans under stress and end times revelations, this film offers nothing in the way of social, political or even spiritual commentary. Once the aliens are levelling LA, the script is all about trying to escape — if only we could escape the repetitive dialogue.

The one tantalising plot thread, that of the mysterious light that entrances and then entraps is never really elaborated on. There is even mention of “rapture” at some point — again a tantalising piece of dialogue left to hang among the running and screaming.

And there is a lot of running and screaming; there’s even slow-motion running and screaming. But, in a laughable plot device, they keep running and screaming to the top of the building — not sure how the characters thought they would exit the building via the roof.

If the film has a supremely major flaw (among the many listed here) it is that its characters are just not engaging or interesting enough.

The less said about the “belly of the beast” finale the better, but production designers take note: black plastic sheeting looks cheap and nasty whichever way you shoot it.

The special effects design owes a big debt to the original War of the Worlds film. Elsewhere, the alien war craft hang in the smog-filled LA skyline, reminiscent of District 9.

I’m sure there was an interesting film in here somewhere; it just wasn’t going to be made by the Brothers Strause.

In the end, the film feels like two separate films: a high budget special-effects genre piece and a very B-grade film, cynically dismissive of narrative drive and character development.

Clumsily, the film is left wide open for a sequel and, though the special effects were interesting, really this is two hours of your life you will want back.

Adrian Drayton


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