When alien ships the size of clouds lower from the sky, we don’t win. Thankfully, “Skyline” gets this right, as did Neill Blomkamp’s invasion-satire “District 9,” in which the hovering UFOs turn out to be something like slave ships. (On land, the aliens get similar treatment.) The latter film has humanity (well, the moral parties, anyway) fight for the aliens, while the newer entry wages all out war against the overwhelmed peons called humans. No longer can deus ex machinas like human or computer viruses save us. “Skyline,” if not always successful, refashions the modern alien invasion motif as the hopeless siege that it should be.
To buttress the looming ships, and their ability to suck lives up like an eruption in slo-mo, the Strause brothers – effects specialists turned co-directors – dream up alien forms of various size, which results in a fuckstorm to the citizens of downtown Los Angeles. The film’s perspective is through those living the high-life in a penthouse: effects man Terry (Donald Faison), with the troublesome party of his wife and secretary/mistress. Terry recruits Jarrod (unbeknownst to him; played by the equally handsome and eerie-faced Eric Balfour) to join his team, a situation quite complicated once Jarrod learns his girl is expecting. The setup is all stale filler, the means to introduce high rollers about to become victims locked in the sky(rise): more punishing to them than helpful (but key to viewers) is a telescope rigged with a camera to a widescreen. The living hell is all too visible to its victims, who hide behind motorized shades, less they be spotted by lurking crawlers.
Most commentary on “Skyline” has bemoaned its derivative nature. Yet, hardly any have questioned whether the film revises these conventions for a better effect – what “Skyline” aims to, though doesn’t always, achieve. Many set pieces prove more promising than delivered, like an attempted escape in parking garage and an apartment invasion, which consumes an elderly resident. (“It’s like the goddamn rapture!” he yells prior, suggesting the Strauses did, in fact, have a look at the Book of Revelation while conceiving.)
The filmmakers realize the most devastating, yet still somewhat credible, form of monster, aliens from beyond, in the multiple forms of “Starship Trooper”-sized mammoths, squids of the air, and spindly land-crawlers — many with Medusa-like powers (causing in humans dermal darkening, paralysis, and psychological transformation before it consumes them as slaves). The sure doom would make the late film theorist Robin Wood proud – too often our fears, which briefly emerge from repression though the horror genre, are re-sublimated with a finish in which humans triumph. The crazed haunt of “Independence Day,” which tells the president that his race’s goal is for humans to die as it consumes our resources, turns out to be a cutout of our nightmares, knocked down by the magic of human technology. Our truest fears will never subsist – one of which surely is the beast from beyond, imagined by the ancient Greeks as the sea-haunting Kraken, but after the space age, existing from up above. Those of us who dream of evil know it will never die, no matter how many traditional narratives try to stifle it. This title reminds us where to look once our vision falls to darkness at night.