Liam O'Donnell's Skylines (2020) Film Review

Skylines (2020), directed by Liam O’Donnell | FEATURE FILM REVIEW

Skylines (2020) doesn’t waste any time in propelling us straight into the action and if, like me, you haven’t yet seen the first two instalments of the franchise – Skyline (2010) and Beyond Skyline (2017) – the robust tones of James Cosmo narrate a prologue that briefly (and almost begrudgingly) introduces us to the story so far.

But it is up to the audience to catch up – and quickly. Occasional flashbacks and helpful exposition assist the uninitiated in working out what is at stake, but Skylines (2020) challenges us to jump on board straight away or risk being left behind.

I can’t pretend I always knew what was going on, but co-writer and director Liam O’Donnell handles the pace so deftly, that the weary humanity of the characters and the visual flair won me over almost immediately. Do check out our interview with Liam O’Donnell about making Skylines (2020) – the video of the interview is at the bottom of this page too!

For a comparatively low budget film, the visual effects are impressive…

Skylines (2020) is a sci-fi melting pot

We are in a post-apocalyptic London where a viral pandemic (topical) threatens to turn earth-dwelling alien hybrids against humans (less topical). Lindsey Morgan provides a strong lead character in Rose, a super-powered captain who has been growing at an accelerated rate since birth (or “a kid alien in Tom Hanks’ body”, as Jonathan Howard’s Leon describes her).

Actors Jonathan Howard, Lindsey Morgan, Daniel Bernhardt
Actors Jonathan Howard, Lindsey Morgan, Daniel Bernhardt in Skylines (2020). Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment.

It is with this backdrop that Rose is sent on a mission to the aliens’ homeworld in order to save the last vestiges of humanity.

As one might gather from the premise, Skylines (2020) continues the well-trod path of many science fiction ideas that have preceded it.

The militaristic weapon wielding between man and alien calls directly to mind the likes of Aliens (1986) and Starship Troopers (1997). Stir these together, then add liberal lashings of District 9 (2009), and you can pretty much judge the tone of Skylines (2020). Much of its appeal is in how blatantly O’Donnell throws it all at the wall to see what sticks; a case of homage being the sincerest form of flattery.

Extra-terrestrial heart

It isn’t long before we are introduced to the team of elite mercenaries that will aid Rose in her reckless mission. Each, of course, possesses a specific set of skills to deal with their alien threat, though these skills perhaps become less nuanced once the de rigueur space bazookas come on the scene.

Rhona Mitra, actor, model, Skylines (2020)
Rhona Mitra, actor, in Skylines (2020) from Liam O’Donnell. Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment.

Alongside the aforementioned Leon, the supporting characters range from Daniel Bernhardt‘s chisel-jawed ‘Jean Claude Van Damme-lite’ Owens, to Rhona Mitra as Doctor Mal, who is as proficient with a shotgun as she is with antidotes to biological warfare.

Skylines (2020) challenges us to jump on board straight away or risk being left behind

Mal has been helping Rose keep her hybrid nature, and rapid ageing, in check. Rose wants to fight her nature but, in a trope reminiscent of the likes of Captain Marvel (2019), is formidable once she embraces her powers.

The reliable (but here, underused) James Cosmo briefly gets in on the action with a gun-totin’ moment that reminded me of the late Albert Finney’s marvellous “Welcome to Scotland!” scene in Skyfall (2012). Completely different films, but the same sentiment nonetheless. Elsewhere, genre veteran Alexander Siddig puts in a delightfully hammy performance as General Radford, the man who sends Rose and her rogues’ gallery on their mission.

For me, however, the most effective character is the engaging alien Trent, Rose’s brother. Always ready with a profanity-laced quip, Trent also provides much of the extra-terrestrial heart central to the film. Until the end credits, I could not establish whether it was CGI-augmented performance-capture or an actor in a brilliantly designed suit. Credit to stunt-man and actor Jeremy Fitzgerald for pulling it off so convincingly.

Actor Alexander Siddig in Skylines (2020)
Actor Alexander Siddig in Skylines (2020). Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment.

Does Skylines (2020) stick the landing?

Skylines (2020) is a film with enthusiastic performances and a script that fulfills its function more than adequately. It largely manages to steer clear of the clichéd dialogue that is often prevalent in films of this genre, and it has a witty energy that propels it along. That said, the plot does get a bit too convoluted for its own good as it barrels towards the last act. It may be the third film in a series, but arguably, it should be accessible and coherent in its own right.

For a comparatively low budget film, the visual effects are impressive, courtesy of Hydraulx, the VFX company founded by brothers Greg Strause and Colin Strause (directors of the first instalment in the series and returning as producers here).

A tension building score by the extremely prolific Ram Khatabakhsh strikes just the right notes, complementing the slickly edited action sequences without dominating them.

All in all, Skylines (2020) piqued my interest enough to make me want to go back and watch its predecessors to get the full narrative picture. Yes, we have seen this kind of thing many times before, but amongst the familiar trappings of alien invasion, good vs. evil and humanity fighting for survival, there is a commitment to its own internal mythology that is commendable.

IMDb score: 4.7 | Film Forums: 6.5


Artwork: Richard Williams
Images courtesy of Vertical Entertainment