SKYLINE is an alien invasion movie that I haven’t seen and never heard anything good about, but now there’s a sequel on VOD called BEYOND SKYLINE, and it has Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian from THE RAID in supporting roles. The fact of the matter is if they put those two in a movie then there’s a high chance I’m gonna watch it. I mean if it gets to the point where they’re doing non-fighting cameos in Sandra Bullock relationship dramas or wacky ironic “grindhouse” movies with Danny Trejo and Sid Haig then my dedication will be tested. But for now it’s a pretty effective hook.
A better reason to watch it is the actual lead, Frank Grillo. Chances are you either already love him or are unfamiliar with his recent ascension to torch-bearer of a certain masculine ideal. He caught my eye in THE GREY and WARRIOR, and he was the main villain in the Chinese smash WOLF WARRIOR 2, but generally when he gets into big movies it’s like secondary villain in CAPTAIN AMERICA 2 and 3 or “Squadron Commanding Officer” in ZERO DARK THIRTY. You gotta go a little lowbrow like THE PURGE: ANARCHY to see him as full-on leading man.
Grillo’s rugged charisma anchors this messy, ambitious low budget special effects showcase. He plays an LAPD detective who, you will be in no way surprised to hear, is currently suspended because he’s been drinking so much since the death of his wife. When his partner Garcia (Jacob Vargas, THE PRINCIPAL) tells him “You look worse than I imagined” it’s kinda funny because Garcia is a bit of a slob but Mark is chiseled and well-groomed. (At least it’s not the standard “You look like shit.”)
Mark has to come to the station to pick up his son Trent (Jonny Weston, JOHN DIES AT THE END) who is not a drinker and prefers to express his inner turmoil in the medium of other people’s faces (he broke some guy’s jaw). While Mark is lecturing Trent about his life choices, the young man reveals that he didn’t technically beat the guy up, he just punched him one time, but it was a really good punch. Mark can’t help but let out a proud “Nice,” and Grillo’s delivery makes me forgive all the cliches leading up to that moment.
So, messed up father and son are right in the middle of bonding on the subway when what should happen but a fucking alien invasion, or “skyline” as it’s called in this universe (that is speculation, as I mentioned I have not seen part 1). But they’re underground so they assume it’s just a power outage or something when the train breaks down. Mark flashes his badge (no need for anybody to know he’s suspended) and becomes de facto leader of the passengers walking to safety.
It’s a Spielberg’s-WAR-OF-THE-WORLDS-style ground-eye-view of the invasion, but these are people who witness all kinds of crazy business. Before long they’re watching gigantic motherships hover above the city, vagina monsters trying to eat them, towering Cthulus attacking, mechanical tentacles ripping out brains, aliens inside aliens like Russian nesting dolls, all types of shit.
SKYLINE was directed by the FX-artist brothers Greg and Colin Strause. I imagine it was an attempt to have more control than on their also-panned directorial debut ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM, as well as to showcase the talents of their FX company Hydraulx. The first film’s screenwriter Liam O’Donnell (also an FX guy) graduates to director here, with the Brothers Strause as producers and Hydraulx continuing to show off both digital imagery and sophisticated rubber suit type shit.
I seem to remember that people were disappointed in the first one because it was mostly confined to one apartment building (apartment?). If that’s accurate, this has a much larger scale to it. The reported budget is $20 million dollars, which is alot of money to you or I, but it’s almost $200 million less than the last TRANSFORMERS movie. Nevertheless they have quite a few locations and different types of aliens and ships and what not. I wish there were more variations in color, and the design style could be more distinct from similar movies (the hyper-detailed TRANSFORMERS and BATTLESHIP look), but the effects are very impressive for a smaller movie. The green screening mostly works and the lead alien is a guy in a stilted suit that blends well with the digital ones. There’s enough going on here to imply a whole mythology, although I didn’t quite follow all the non-verbal business. Mark is somehow able to figure out by watching them that there’s “only one real alien, the rest are slaves.”
Trent keeps looking into the light and getting a glowy-eyed, black-veined type of zombification that Mark has to keep snapping him out of, which reflects his parenting style well (wait until he gets in trouble, then come bail him out). But when the kid actually gets snatched into the slimy bowels of a ship, Mark lets himself be taken too. (Which is weird because the actor playing his son was in TAKEN 3). This is like a sci-fi version of George C. Scott submerging himself in the pornographer underground to find his missing daughter in HARDCORE. He’ll go anywhere to save his son, even if he has to fall and bounce off stuff and hang from the bottom of a space ship with his leg impaled on a spike.
Things get interesting when Mark basically waves down an alien and convinces it to help him out. See, Mark helps a pregnant woman (Samantha Jean, apparently a recast of a part 1 character) on the ship deliver a baby, and he figures out that the brain of the father is implanted in the alien, so he promises to get the baby safely off the ship if the alien helps him find his son. Long story. No – actually, not a long story, that is pretty much the whole story right there. So anyway he’s walking around with this tall four-glowing-eyed alien, carrying a baby HARD BOILED style, and trying to understand what the alien wants him to do, such as stick his hand in a slimy hole and get a new morphing knife attachment for his arm.
Just when the story is starting to seem a little too random for me to make any sense out of, Grillo has one of those great acting moments that elevates any B-movie (maybe B+/A- in this case?). One of the passengers that ends up on the ship with him is a blind homeless veteran called Sarge (Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas, aka Doodlebug Simkins from CLEOPATRA JONES). After hanging upside down from a vine and a bunch of other torment, Sarge is feeling karmically punished and asks, “What if we deserve this? Shit, I more than earned it.”
Mark doesn’t answer, but you see how pained he is thinking about the things he’s done that might support that theory.
Maybe him saving a baby (rapidly growing into a toddler due to alien DNA, by the way) is supposed to redeem him for his parenting failures, but it seems to me he’s doing the exact same shit again. He does not consider personal hands-on protection of the baby to be part of his mandate. At one point he just hides her in some alien webs while he goes to fight! Possibly an homage to DOUBLE TEAM. And then he hands her off to the female lead Audrey (Bojana Novakovic, DRAG ME TO HELL) to take care of. I bet this is the same way he raised Trent (who now has his brain in an alien body, for whatever that’s worth).
Anyway the ship crashes in Laos, where they meet Sua (Uwais) and Kanya (Pamelyn Chee), local outlaws who hide in ancient temples fighting both the aliens and the rampaging local militia. Ruhian plays a militia asshole who they lock in a cell for a while but eventually set free to help them fight the aliens. He doesn’t get as much to do as Uwais (who does pretty well with English dialogue and even says “Oh fuck!”) but at least it’s a movie that presents you with the question “Wouldn’t it be fucked up if you woke up outside and Yayan Ruhian, wearing a beret, had a gun pointed at your head?”
The climax is so much smaller than all the shit that happened at the beginning, but way more exciting for my tastes. We get to see all the heroes doing badass poses and then having knife fights with aliens and at one point an alien does a spin kick. The fighting is certainly not up to the standard of Uwais and Ruhian’s Indonesian movies, but I mean… it’s those guys stabbing aliens, and they did the choreography. It’s something to see.
BEYOND SKYLINE is kinda overwhelming and in your face; it kind of whelms you in the face. It’s not the type of precisely constructed storytelling I prefer, but it’s jam-packed with cool stuff, and any time it starts to get repetitive it’s about to move on to something very different. With Grillo’s performance at the heart of it, and a little bit of emotion, plus a side dish of THE RAID guys, I found it to be a very worthwhile V.O.D. experience.
Full disclosure/disclosure-brag: Director Liam O’Donnell was photographed wearing my Viva Val Verde t-shirt design while directing Uwais and Grillo in Indonesia. I tried not to let that influence my opinion of the movie, but you can be the judge.
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.