“…He’d like to come and meet us, but he thinks he’d blow our minds…”. I hope that David Bowie, the Starman himself, wouldn’t mind me borrowing his famous words, as they were the ones running through my mind as I watched SKYMAN. Shot in the style of a documentary, SKYMAN follows the journey of Carl Merryweather (Michael Selle), as he seeks a truth he’s known since he was a child.
It’s Carl’s fortieth birthday. In spite of the usual melancholic sting of getting older, he’s excited. He’s been preparing for this day since he was 10 years old, when a UFO was seen in the skies above his hometown. Carl was the only person who claims to have had a direct telepathic connection with what he calls the Skyman, the entity aboard the vessel. Since then he has obsessively learned, studied, planned, sketched, speculated, and researched the Skyman and what his experiences, and the thoughts he heard in his head, could mean. He’s certain that this year, for his birthday, the Skyman will come back for him. He enlists the help of his sister, Gina (Nicolette Sweeney) and his best friend Marcus (Faleolo Alailima) and plans to spend his birthday at the bunker he and his dad built after the initial contact they call the HGH (or Higher Ground House). Marcus and Gina are skeptical, but supportive, and their love for Carl drives them to follow him, in spite of how insane his ideas may sound.
Carl, Marcus, and Gina make their way to the HGH — film crew in tow. Carl has packed the truck with all of his equipment – EMP protection, filming equipment of his own, super magnets (which he kept safe by burying in the desert until he was ready to take them to the HGH). Gina does her best to refocus his obsession to make sure they’re adequately prepared for a weekend in the desert – helpfully packing food and extra bedding – and also tries her best to convince Carl that none of this is necessary. His obsession has had thirty years to build, though, and won’t be stopping until he finds his answer – or it finds him.
There’s a quiet heartbreak to SKYMAN – as real life combines with the fantastic. Gina and Marcus do their best to navigate Carl’s swinging and wild obsession, and Carl combats his gut instincts and his logical beliefs, while also navigating real life – his mom’s illness, his difficulty holding down a job, and the loss of his father. The heart of SKYMAN is Gina, and her undying love for her brother. Her heartache is visceral and real, and ultimately tells the story – especially as the obsession and reality come crashing together.
I have to say – SKYMAN nearly had me going for the first few minutes. The documentary feel is very real, and the actors are all very genuine. What tipped me off was some silly banter in the script that, quite simply, isn’t how people talk in “real life”. That being said, it’s easy over the course of this film to suspend that disbelief and convince yourself this is all real. There’s even enough of that sort of mundane, “this is the footage they had to work with” feeling, which any of us documentary lovers will recognize immediately. There’s a lot of “real life” here, and it’s delivered with great seriousness and care.
If SKYMAN falls short, it is only because of a severe lack of stakes involved. Much time is spent showing the prep and set up for the imminent alien arrival, but as it isn’t a malevolent force (as far as we know, and Carl believes), there’s a sense of quiet anticipation without much build up. The end of the film wraps up quickly, and without much in terms of reveal or fanfare, which may be the most successful piece of the film overall, but makes the previous hour and change of the film feel a bit heavy-handed and drawn out.
The core of SKYMAN is full of loss and heartache and immense love. It’s what drives the film – what drives Carl, and Gina, and Marcus – and ultimately, drives all of us. And all things considered, that’s a concept very grounded right here to planet Earth.
|Runtime:||1 hr 35 Mins.|