Saturday, November 13, 2010

Skyline: Aliens in the Sky Getting Nasty

What I want to say about the new sci-fi/horror flick Skyline is that it's really about getting killed in real estate. Literally about that. I'd like to say figuratively, as well, though that may be crediting the movie with too much metaphor.

Picking as its venue the 24th floor Penthouse of a glass-and-chrome modern condo complex - from which the characters have a perfect view of the demolition visiting the Los Angeles skyline - the movie revels in its cold, chrome modern architecture, destroying its inhabitants as swiftly and relentlessly as the housing crash has destroyed the fortunes of many a condo owner in the last two years. This then is perhaps the first condo-anxiety horror film.

Like Cloverfield before it, the conceit in Skyline is that the main story is happening elsewhere, and we're just following a group of random twenty-somethings in their media-misinformed peripheral point of view of the action. The main story - about the invasion of the world by nasty aliens intent on consuming every last human being for their own nefarious purposes - was already told in Independence Day (and much more effectively). So what we're given here is the story of five underprivileged, air-headed pretty twenty somethings who must cope with big blue lights of seduction and subsequent horrible death and destruction going on around them, without knowing anything about what's really happening. You really couldn't get any more peripheral than these five - two friends and their three girlfriends - who have zero personality and even less brains (um, no pun intended) as they try to escape from their sky-loft of death and keep locking themselves out on the roof of the building. It's a little like spending an hour an a half watching "Star Trek" without ever seeing Kirk, Spock, or McCoy - instead, just following the red-shirted extras as they one-by-one get picked off and eaten by molten rocks with teeth.

I'm not sure what this trend about following the least important people in the story portends. In 2012 it's a second-rate writer who's the most important story in the destruction of the world. In Cloverfield we're following a group of unimportant friends. In Skyline these people are even less than unimportant - they're the unpleasant neighbors you wish would go away. Meanwhile, Presidents, artists, football players, precocious teenagers, Marines, lovers, parents, and cute doggies are all getting eaten as well, but no one cares to tell the stories about them. It's tempting to say this is the way the Reality-Show/Tea Party generation sees the world, where importance and authority is determined by the less you have that the most interesting people of all are the completely unaccomplished idiots. No wonder the aliens save these brains for last.

The imagining of the alien menace has all been lifted from the War of the World and Matrix movies, even echoing the floating tenticals as they search out the smell of fresh human brains. Going into the movie I turned to my companion and asked, "is this going to be a zombie movie"? No, I was told, but with its slow-moving, blue-eyed siren singing aliens and its fascination for brain consumption, I'm not so sure.

The ostensible hero, Jarrod (played by Eric Balfour, a completely fashion-pressed TV actor who is probably best known as Milo on "24") leads an anorexic cast who don't have characterizations so much as personality death assignments, as in Freddie Kruger movies (you know: little ironic lines that presage how they are going to die). For instance, the guy who giggles at spying with a telescope on a couple in the condo across the street is the first to be spotted by the alien window shoppers and sucked out of the condo. Once that moment in the movie happens, you know that the rest of his bubble-headed friends are sure to follow, one by one.

I was so much looking forward to more from this movie, as the effects looked cool and I love movies with an askew perspective, as the trailer promised and we see in glimpses here and there. The image of people floating off the ground and into the alien space ships is mesmerizing, even if it is stolen from War of the Worlds. Mesmerization seems to be the theme of the movie, though there's no interest in exploring theme here, just in sucking the life out of the planet. For vacuum cleaners, these relentless aliens do a pretty good job. Not a cliche is left unturned, by the end.

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