Review: ‘Skyman,’ starring Michael Selle, Nicolette Sweeney and Faleolo Alailima

June 30, 2020

by Carla Hay

Michael Selle in “Skyman” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“Skyman”

Directed by Daniel Myrick

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in California, the sci-fi drama “Skyman” features a nearly all-white cast (with a few Asian characters) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A man is a social outcast in his community because he believes in UFOs and outer-space aliens, and he plans to celebrate his 40th birthday by trying to reunite with an alien that he says he saw when he was 10 years old.

Culture Audience: “Skyman” will appeal primarily to people who have the patience to sit through a very boring sci-fi movie where not much happens until the last 10 minutes of the film.

Michael Selle in “Skyman” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

If you’re type of person who hates movies where people keep talking about what they’re going to do and they take a long time before they actually follow through with it, then you’re really going to despise the sci-fi drama “Skyman.” It’s a movie that’s stuck on an irritating and boring repeat loop of the main character preparing and talking about something that doesn’t happen until the last 10 minutes of this 92-minute snoozefest.

“Skyman” was written and directed by Daniel Myrick, who is best known for the 1999 horror flick “The Blair Witch Project,” which was his first feature film and a big sleeper hit. “The Blair Witch Project” has been credited with starting the “found footage” trend that has been over-used in many horror films since then. Although “The Blair Witch Project” got some criticism for being an overly talkative movie with a very flimsy premise, most people would agree that “The Blair Witch Project” did have some moments of genuine suspense.

Unfortunately, there’s absolutely no suspense in “Skyman,” which telegraphs the very predictable ending so early in the story that by the time the ending happens, it’s anticlimactic and there are no real surprises. Instead of having a “found footage” format, “Skyman” has a faux documentary format: What we’re seeing is supposed to look like a documentary, but it’s actually all scripted with actors. The story in “Skyman” is supposed to take place in 2017.

There’s so much filler in “Skyman” that it really should have been a short film instead. One of the many unnecessary scenes in “Skyman” is the opening scene, which has a “talking head” interview with Cecil. H. Crawford, Ph.D. (played by Craig Downing), who works in psychology at the University of Washington. Dr. Crawford is speaking outside what looks like the university campus, and he’s talking about people who believe in UFOs and outer-space aliens.

“Typically, there’s a specific, socioeconomic profile that tends to make them more vulnerable to believing in the idea,” says Dr. Crawford. “They’re good people. They may be a little bit lost and looking for something that science can’t provide.” The movie then shows a montage of 1980s-era home videos of a family who lives in a desert area. The father and two sons are featured prominently in this home-video footage.

Who is this family? They are the Merryweather family, and they’ve been living in the desert town of Apple Valley, California, for about 35 years. Something happened to the Merryweathers about 30 years ago that permanently changed their lives: When their son Carl (played by Michael Selle) was 10 years old in 1987, he and some other people in the area saw a UFO. In addition, Carl claims that he also had an encounter with a space alien that day.

The sighting of the UFO (which Carl describes as a “black triangle”) and the space alien made the news, and Carl was interviewed on local TV about it. But all the publicity caused Carl to be ridiculed as crazy by most people in the community, and he’s been a socially awkward outcast ever since. However, about 30 years after the sighting, a documentary filmmaker (played by Myrick, who is mostly heard off-camera and briefly seen on camera) has taken an interest in Carl and wants to chronicle Carl’s quest to reunite with the alien on Carl’s 40th birthday. And guess what Carl  has nicknamed this creature? Skyman.

As an example of this movie’s lazy screenwriting, it’s never explained in the movie how Carl, who has been living in obscurity, got a documentary filmmaker to do a movie about him, considering that are many other people in the world who’ve claimed to have had encounters with space aliens. Did Carl contact the filmmaker, or did the filmmaker contact him? Although it’s a minor detail, it would also put into context how much of a publicity seeker Carl is or not.

Carl has such a plodding demeanor and banal personality that any good documentarian would be able to see within 20 minutes of spending time with him that he would not make an interesting subject for a documentary. And because he’s a loner, the documentary largely hinges on his character and what he does with his life. In the larger context of “Skyman,” making such an uninteresting and often pathetic character the center of this movie can only be blamed on writer/director Myrick. At least “The Blair Witch Project” had an ensemble of distinct personalities trying to solve a mystery that helped make the movie’s story intriguing.

Carl and his divorced sister Gina Campbell (played by Nicolette Sweeney), who do not have children, sit down for an interview together early in this “documentary” to talk about their family history. The Merryweather family, which includes their older bother Kenny, moved to Apple Valley when Carl was 5. Their father (whose name is never mentioned in the movie) was a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, and he died of a heart attack in 2010. Carl and Gina’s mother Denise lives in a nursing home, where Gina works full-time. Gina is also a student working on getting her nursing degree.

Carl and Gina’s older brother Kenny lives in Alaska and is estranged from the family. Kenny and Carl have a long history of not getting along with each other. When they were kids, Kenny would often bully Carl. What does Kenny have to do with the story? Absolutely nothing. He’s only mentioned as an example of someone who was mean-spirited to Carl, in order to make Carl look sympathetic to viewers.

According to interviews with some of the locals, Carl is known to be an eccentric who likes tinkering with items and fixing things. Carl is described as intelligent when it comes to this type of work, but he’s had a hard time holding a steady job. It’s implied that Carl has a pattern of getting fired because when he’s at work, he can’t help but start babbling about his UFO conspiracy theories. He seems to earn some money by doing independent contractor repair jobs for people here and there.

Anyone who wants to slog through the tedious sludge that is most of this movie’s content should be warned that most of the “documentary” footage looks like outtakes from very mundane family home videos. There’s a scene of Carl giving a tour of his very cluttered “pack rat” home, where he has a large collection of UFO-related books and magazines.

He also shows some of his hand-drawn illustrations of the space alien that he encountered. (It looks like a tall creature with a typical aesthetic that’s been seen in other sci-fi movies about space aliens.) As part of his “sightings” collection, Carl keeps a hand-written book of contact information for everyone he knows about who has claimed to have encountered UFOs or space aliens. There is no subtlety in this movie. Carl is obsessed.

Carl also gives a tour of the Merryweather family’s abandoned high ground house (HGH), which is essentially a large trailer located way out in a remote part of the desert. Carl says that he considers himself to be a doomsday prepper, but he insists that he isn’t crazy. Carl’s father had the family live in the HGH for a good deal of the siblings’ childhood. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Carl reveals that his father had a UFO encounter while on Air Force duty with two other colleagues, but his father and Air Force co-workers didn’t report it because they didn’t want to be accused of having “battle fatigue.”

There’s a long stretch of the movie where the “documentary” follows Carl during his first time attending two UFO Festivals: one in McMinnville, Oregon, and one in Roswell, New Mexico. These events are essentially Comic-Cons for UFO enthusiasts. These UFO Festival scenes, if they had been written better, would have made “Skyman” a slightly interesting film, but Myrick wastes this opportunity by making these festival scenes as lackluster as the scenes of Carl back at home.

This is Carl’s reaction to experiencing these festivals: “I’ve never needed validation …  but it’s nice to know that I’m not as alone in how I feel.” In fact, Carl keeps repeating a variation of “I know what I saw was real” when talking about his UFO/space alien experience, and he says it so many times, that it could easily become a drinking game for this movie.

Even the family tension in the movie is downright dull. Carl’s mother Denise (played by Patricia Lentz) doesn’t approve of his obsession over UFOs and space aliens, but there’s not much she can do about it. When he visits her in the nursing home, all she does is mildly scold him when she finds out what he plans to do for his 40th birthday.

Meanwhile, Gina is feeling the pressure of trying to hold the family together, and she’s carrying most of the financial weight to take care of the siblings’ ailing mother. In a separate interview, away from Carl, she confesses that she feels alone because she doesn’t really have a support system. She breaks down and cries when she says about Carl: “I can’t rely on him.”

Gina is semi-skeptical about the existence of UFOs, but Carl convinces her to go with him to the family’s desert HGH on his 40th birthday. Also along for the trip is Marcus Florio (played by Faleolo Alailima), who’s known the siblings since they were in high school together. As Carl says in the movie about Marcus: “He’s one of the only people in town that doesn’t think I’m crazy.”

Marcus works at a local hardware store, where Carl buys some magnet equipment to test any electromagnetic forces that might change due to an alien’s presence. For the trip to the desert HGH, Carl also brings a small, handmade satellite dish that looks like it belongs in a junkyard. You don’t have to be a genius to see that Carl is desperate to make contact with the alien.

There are very few movies where you can watch the first 10 minutes, then skip to the last 10 minutes, and find out everything you need to know about the story. But “Skyman” is one of those films. And one of the many flaws of this disappointing movie is that it doesn’t stay consistent with the faux documentary format.

In some scenes, the movie looks like raw documentary footage with no musical score. In other scenes, it looks like a scripted drama, including the addition of a musical score that’s supposed to reflect the mood of the scene. (Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan is one of the film’s three musical composers for the sparse “Skyman” score. The other two music composers are Don Miggs and Greg Hansen.)

The acting is mediocre, and there are a few scenes where even the actors break from a naturalistic style to a more affected “it looks like we’re reading a script” style. Since Carl is the focus of the film, Selle (who makes his feature-film debut in “Skyman”) does an adequate job in the role. The acting isn’t the biggest problem with “Skyman.” It’s the very thinly constructed and monotonous screenplay, as well as the unimaginative direction, that make “Skyman” the very definition of a movie that’s overly padded to disguise that there is no real substance to this film.

While Carl, Gina and Marcus wait in the desert for a possible encounter with the Sykman alien, Carl utters, “I hope that this hasn’t been a big waste of time.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly how people will feel while watching “Skyman.”

Gravitas Ventures released “Skyman” in select U.S. drive-in theaters on June 30, 2020. The movie’s digital/VOD release date is on July 7, 2020.