WHAT'S ALIEN YOU?

BEYOND SKYLINE (15)

Director: Liam O'Donnell

Screenplay: Liam O'Donnell

Starring: Frank GrilloBojana NovakovicJonny Weston

Review: David Stephens

Thoughts on horror sequels are diverse to say the least. Could be bad, could be good. There’s more of a concentration on shared movie universes and franchises than straightforward sequels these days anyway. Sometimes however the horror community does scratch their collective heads as studios seemingly make strange choices when picking filmic follow-ups. Happily these can turn out to be canny decisions and some good things happen. Two recent sequels that defied expectations and turned out to be pretty great were “Annabelle: Creation” and “Ouija: Origin of Evil”. Okay, so technically they were prequels, but directors David Sandberg and Mike Flanagan surpassed their m’eh inspirations and produced solid genre experiences. “Beyond Skyline” would appear to be another example of this occurrence. The original 2010 film “Skyline” was universally panned and its tale of a global alien invasion become more infamous for its overuse of skybeams and a genuinely WTAF? cliffhanger ending. So the eventual positive feedback that preceded this delayed sequel was surprising when it played the festival circuit. Directed by Liam O'Donnell it stars Frank Grillo, who has quietly become a lucky charm and one of the most dependable action stars, with roles in “The Purge” films and the HUGE Chinese box-office hit “Wolf Warrior 2”. It’s been on VOD and DVD for a little while, but it’s just started streaming on Netflix UK, so YGROY hops aboard the mothership and takes a look…

The story starts roughly parallel to events in the first film (although you really don’t need to have seen it), as we’re introduced to Mark Corley (Grillo). A widowed NYPD detective he’s on his way downtown to pick up his errant son Trent (Jonny Weston), whose rowdy ways are one conviction away from getting him extended time in the slammer. As they take the subway home, the power cuts and the ground shakes. The alien invasion is underway. As Mark and Trent leave the train with the driver Audrey (a nicely gritty and heroic Bojana Novakovic), they come face-to-face with the horrific events taking place in the city. A huge mothership hovers above and is exposing the local population to a deadly blue light that subdues them to crusty-eyed zombies ripe for harvesting. It then sucks them up into its interior for unknown purposes (if you haven’t seen “Skyline” that is). Mark narrowly saves Trent from this fate, but the rag-tag group around him has to then deal with alien soldiers and other extraterrestrial technology that is deployed to capture human stragglers. But they can’t evade capture for long, and they’re going to have to find a way to fight back against this otherworldly menace.

And that’s just the first 20 minutes or so of a 100 minute film! During that time the viewer gets treated to nukes, brain-ripping, F-bombs, alien soldiers, and a massive bio-mechanical robot. Don’t say you don’t get your money’s worth here. The main problem with “Skyline” was that it only really came to life in the first and last moments of its running time. The initial thrill of the invasion was replaced by the characters hiding out in their apartments and trying to avoid the attentions of the alien bastards, before bolting on a bonkers last-minute twist that was never resolved. None of that is a problem here though. The plot moves at light speed and hops around several locations with some surprisingly enthralling sequences. Whereas its predecessor was a sci-fi thriller that was all sci-fi and no thrill, its sequel has expanded on the pulpy elements and incorporated them into an unashamed action movie with some really good VFX.

Without going to Spoiler City, “Beyond” is a genuine sequel that doesn’t ignore the previous film, but still manages to stand alone perfectly well. Fans of THAT ending won’t be disappointed though. In fact it spins off into other satisfying territories and becomes integral to the narrative. It also manages to make some repeated scenes that bit more disturbing with the fates of the blank-eyed populace now detailed that much closer. Other ingenious sci-fi elements like the regenerating ships, large robotic suits, and weaponry are slotted into the story nicely as well. The main secret in reinvigorating the story and making it more entertaining is that Grillo’s Mark is essential John McClane, who’s been dumped into an “Independence Day” apocalypse. His pistol never seems to run out of bullets, he’s always game for a fist-fight, and he bonds with an alien gauntlet without a second thought. He’s the typical rock-steady action hero, a man with a mission as he schleps through several disastrous scenarios with impossible objectives. With that in mind, there are plenty of action tropes in place alongside the extraterrestrial brain-extractions; heroes carrying infants, people surviving un-survivable crashes, plenty of fist-fights, and loads of knuckle-headed quips. So you’ve got; “You go ahead. I’ll hold them back” speeches, along with “I need a drink”, and the wonderful “This bitch ain’t got nothing on Hanoi!” Also expect to hear the weary “Fucking Aliens, man” at least three times…

All that shouldn’t work, but somehow it does. You’ve got to have respect for any sci-fi that culminates in several one-on-one knife-fights with 8-foot tall aliens (where one human character gets two arms and a leg ripped off!), before it upgrades into something much larger. Some critics have suggested this should have gotten a better theatrical release, and it is surprisingly cinematic in some respects. The visual effects do stumble on rare occasions, but mostly they’re very good, and sometimes they are wildly impressive. Bar a brief slow-down in impetus when the group finds refuge, the visuals and action are constant. This does help to “paper over” some of the issues that might concern you, if you just had the chance to consider them. There’s pretty much no character development at all, and some of the plot directions are just plain weird. The Golden Triangle drug ring as mankind’s best hope? Police and drug-traffickers still feuding with the planet in flames? Okay, just roll with it. The plot goes into silliness overdrive towards the end as well, and signs off with a final coda that is appropriately bonkers/brilliant (*delete as applicable*).

But the more generic elements and clichés don’t really matter overall. The tone for the film is set with the post-credit sequence, which is a wonderfully irreverent blooper reel, complete with stuntmen falling over and Grillo being afforded the best final line for a sci-fi horror movie. You really shouldn’t approach this as a serious genre pic, as it’s a glorious mash of tones and sensibilities that just looks damned good for the most part and provides some effortless entertainment. Gun-play, skybeams, martial arts, human brains in alien bodies? Take your pick. It’s all there with some great visual effects. We’d much sooner watch this again then the misguided “Independence Day: Resurgence”, because this is how you do a sequel with city-destroying outer-spacers. Silly, but beyond enjoyable.

November 19, 2019

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“Beyond Skyline” is basically just “Die Hard” vs.” Independence Day”, but all the better for it. Stripping out the disappointments of the first film, it expands on the best ideas from that and runs at a breakneck speed, papering over some of the ridiculous plot elements and generic action tropes. Far more enjoyable than it should be, it’s a guilty pleasure waiting to happen.
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