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It’s a funny thing. Even as real documentaries seem to get better, fake documentaries seem to get worse. The latest example of a now exhausted trend is the new effort from director/screenwriter Daniel Myrick, best known for co-directing the landmark 1999 found-footage horror film The Blair Witch Project.
Supposedly chronicling the experiences of a man attempting to reconnect with the alien form he encountered as a child, Skyman squanders whatever potential thrills it might have offered with its lackluster execution. Opening Friday in drive-in theaters, the film will be available on demand the following week.
The story revolves around Carl Merryweather (Mike Selle), who became locally famous when he was ten years old and claimed to have come into contact with a UFO shaped like a “giant black triangle” and a “tall and really skinny” extraterrestrial he dubbed “Skyman.” Thirty years later, Carl is convinced that the alien will return to seek him out on his 40th birthday. Although skeptical, his supportive sister Gina (Nicolette Sweeney) agrees to help him go back to the desert where the initial incident occurred, accompanied by a film crew that will document the events.
Much of the film revolves around Carl’s haunted obsession with his past experience and UFOs in general, even though he’s become something of a local laughing stock. At a UFO-themed festival, he’s mocked by several fellow attendees when he relates what happened to him. But Carl remains convinced of his belief that Skyman will return, citing such things as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity as proof.
Returning to the makeshift desert dwelling that their father built so they could live off the grid, Carl and Gina, along with their loyal friend Marcus (Faleolo Alailima), begin preparing for the imminent encounter. When an owl suddenly appears, Carl takes it as a good sign. “Owls are known to show up at UFO events,” he explains. “They’re supposed to be some kind of interdimensional scouts.”
That’s an example of the deadpan humor that periodically enlivens the proceedings. Even funnier is Carl’s offhand comment about his mother tolerating his father’s eccentricities. “She basically went along with everything my dad did…except for the goat,” he tells an interviewer, without bothering to explain any further.
Unfortunately, such moments are few and far between, with the film, unlike Blair Witch, seeming to take forever to get to the scary stuff. And when it does, in the form of strange phenomena that begin occurring to the trio during their night in the desert, it proves decidedly underwhelming. Not to mention that the faux documentary/found footage style, so fresh two decades ago, has now become such a cliché that Skyman often threatens to devolve into self-parody.
Myrick proves all too adept at filming in deliberately rough-hewn style, to the point that it’s almost unbearable to watch. Late in the proceedings, the documentary crew’s sound engineer decides to abandon the project after the military warns the group to leave, resulting in the sound quality becoming even worse than it was before. Ironically, the most convincing thing about Skyman is its amateurishness.
Selle, making his feature debut, proves convincing as the off-kilter Carl, his acting inexperience perhaps adding to the effectiveness of his performance as a man desperately uncomfortable in the spotlight. Sweeney delivers a comparably authentic-feeling turn, displaying good chemistry with her co-star. But their efforts are not enough to lift the film to the spooky heights to which it aspires.
Production companies: Red Arrow Studios, Hungry Bull Productions
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures (Drive-in, On Demand)
Cast: Michael Selle, Nicolette Sweeney, Faleolo Alailima, Willow Hale, Lee Broda, Tony Stopperan
Director/screenwriter/editor: Daniel Myrick
Producers: Joseph Restaino, Anthony Pernicka, William Surgeon, Daniel Myrick
Executive producers: Omar Medina, Charles Restaino, Priscilla Restaino
Directors of photography: Daniel Myrick, Kevin Burke
Production designer: Shawn Carroll
Composers: Don Miggs, Billy Corgan, Greg Hansen
Casting: Emily Schweber