Skyman (Myrick, 2020)

Before apologizing profusely for not much caring for Skyman, I guess I have to admit that I didn’t much care for Skyman.

People are literally dying to get back to the movies, so each new release that falls flat hurts like a mirage in the desert. Skyman is taking the route of drive-ins and VOD release, and its low-budget look and retro feel are ideal for bring out the nostalgia element of watching a movie from the front seat of your car. But the movie itself doesn’t offer much more than nostalgia at a time when commensurate viewing choices can be had for free on a dozen different streaming channels.

Director Daniel Myrick’s last (really only other) credit of note was co-directing The Blair Witch Project. According to the site Box Office Mojo, that film had a budget of $60,000 and has grossed over 248 million. With a 413,000% return on investment, Blair Witch is — at least commercially — one of the most successful films in the history of cinema. The Hollywood Reporter provides different budget numbers, but my point is that by any metric, it was an astonishing, once-in-a-lifetime, success.

In the film’s production notes, Myrick claims he had some reluctance to shoot Skyman in the same style as Blair Witch, and it is easy to understand why. The earlier film was a breakout in part because it was new and different, but success breeds imitation, and now there are so many films shot on video, marketed with guerrilla tactics, and feeding the insatiable demand for streaming content that Skyman feels like one more rather than something new.

Skyman tells the story of Carl Merryweather (Michael Selle) who is adamant he was visited by aliens as a boy and only slight less adamant that they will return on his fortieth birthday. That’s it. That’s the plot.

I am three years younger than Myrick, so I too grew up on dog-eared, second-hand paperbacks with fuzzy photos of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. UFOs were never a particular thread of the believe-it-or-not school of history that I pulled on, but I understand how interest in them could grow in a period predating camera phones and Internet sites. There was a time not that long ago, when not everyone had photo-shop, and the idea that a photo could be doctored was as theoretical to most of us as the concept of confirmation bias.

The problem is that this was all forty years ago, and we live in a different world now. Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and UFOs got part of their fascination from the fact that actual confirmation didn’t exist. But in a scripted movie, even one without special effects, we know in the back of our head that anything could happen with equal plausibility. If Skyman does show up, he won’t be the first alien in the history of movies to be caught on camera. Conversely, if Skyman doesn’t show, the film has no new insights about the meaning of Carl’s obsession and what we should take from it. Nobody seems to realize that a film about people who are interested in UFOs is not the same thing as a film for people who are interested in UFOs

The one way Skyman works is as an acting showcasing. Selle plays Carl with the forced calmness of a man who knows people already think he is crazy and that he can’t afford to give them an excuse to lock him up. Nicolette Sweeney is equally effective as Gina, the sister who has been pushed past her limits of patience but is not yet ready to write off her brother as beyond saving. Acting in these sorts of movies is harder than it looks, precisely because you have to look like you are not acting. It is to Selle’s and Sweeney’s credit, that they came across enough like brother and sister that they sent me to the credits at least once to verify that I was watching a “faux” documentary.

Skyman will have a limited theatrical release on June 30, 2020 and drop on VOD a week later.

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