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Close encounters – ‘Skyman’

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Daniel Myrick knows a thing or two about portraying a fictional story as something real. As one half of the duo that made 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project” and fundamentally altered the course of horror cinema, he has some experience with presenting fiction as reality.

His new movie “Skyman” isn’t quite the same thing – styled as a full-on faux documentary rather than found footage – but it does capture some of the same energy. It’s a look at a man whose life has been spent chasing an obsession, springing from an encounter with an alien that took place in his childhood. The time since has been spent quietly trying to make sense of that moment, even as most people around him express wary skepticism. It’s about the ideas that take hold of us and simply refuse to let go. It’s about what happens when the world views as false something you absolutely know to be true.

And with a cast of relative unknowns and a documentarian’s stylings, “Skyman” reads as the real thing (or close enough to allow us to embrace the conceit anyway).

Carl Merryweather (Michael Selle) lives in the Mojave Desert. He’s a quiet guy who largely keeps to himself, earning a living doing odd mechanical jobs – he can fix pretty much anything. Folks like him well enough, but they tend to steer clear.

That’s because for the last 30 years, Carl has also been consumed by a quest to make sense of something that happened to him when he was just 10 years old. This event has defined his entire life, including his relationships with family and friends.

You see, in 1987, Carl Merryweather encountered an alien.

In the midst of a rash of UFO sightings in the area – dozens described an identical black triangle flying overhead – Carl was the one who had the closest encounter. He saw and communicated with an alien being. In telling the story, 10-year-old Carl called the being “Skyman.” It was newsworthy for a small town, but attention quickly faded.

But Carl never forgot.

And when he becomes convinced that his 40th birthday serves as some sort of touchstone, meaning that something related to all of this is coming – he starts to make plans. He’s not alone in all of this – his sister Gina (Nicolette Sweeney) and his old friend Marcus (Faleolo Alailima) are by his side, though both are understandably skeptical about Carl’s beliefs. Still, they’re there for him, come what may.

But what exactly IS coming?

A big part of what makes “Skyman” work – and it does work, albeit with a couple of rough edges – is the competence with which the documentary style is evoked. The absence of production values is a feature, rather than a bug, helping to create that on-a-shoestring vibe that does most of the heavy lifting as far as stylistic verisimilitude. That said, there are a few spots that feel padded out (though again, this may have been a deliberate choice) or where the pacing sputters.

But really, even with the sci-fi trappings, this movie is essentially a character study, a look at what can happen to a life when your beliefs put you on the fringes. While the cultural disdain for UFO subculture has subsided somewhat in recent years, they still tend to be presented as stereotypical “out there” types. Carl’s just … a guy. A guy who can’t stop trying to find an explanation for what happened to him, seeking confirmation of his own truth.

It’s also an interesting look at how outsider ideas can impact relationships. Much of the film is spent watching Carl interact with Gina and to a lesser extent Marcus, two supportive friends who nevertheless have sincere doubts about Carl’s beliefs. But those beliefs also make him the target of mockery and suspicion; his relationship with his mother is particularly fraught.

Obviously, the success of a movie like this is going to ride heavily on the cast. As Carl, Selle captures the energy of the documentary subject. There’s a slight-but-constant remove that reads as Carl being consistently just a little distracted by the presence of cameras; everything is the tiniest bit stilted, to great effect. He’s exactly the sort of weird guy who might catch the eye of a bootstraps-style documentary filmmaker.

Sweeney’s got a tough job, serving as the primary foil to Carl. But she manages it nicely, finding subtle and vital ways to evoke the sister-brother bond. Even when she expresses her misgivings, she finds ways to bring them from a place of love. Alailima has it a bit easier, portraying the amiable goofball buddy, but he too has to do some work to bring forward the pal-around camaraderie. He’s got the charm for it, though.

“Skyman” is a solidly executed faux documentary, in terms of both style and subject. It’s nice to see Dan Myrick blurring those truth/fiction lines again. This is a film that offers a glimpse of a man consumed by the desire to prove something that cannot be proved, a seeker of the truth who doesn’t know where to look.

Life is lonely on the fringes, no matter where those fringes may be.

[3.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Friday, 17 July 2020 09:42

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