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Skyquake
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by Jay Seaver

"A directorial debut that starts well and then crashes hard."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2016 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL: There are a lot of ways filmmakers can be too clever for their own good, but the most frustrating involve telling the audience, in one way or another, that the thing they've invested their time, money, and emotions on doesn't matter. Sandy Robson doesn't do that explicitly with "Skyquake", and would likely argue that everything on-screen is important to the story or telling in some way, but he's made a movie that yanks the rug out from under the viewer a little too completely.

The "Skyquake", we're told, is a phenomenon where loud, strange noises come from a clear sky, though seldom in places where large groups can document it. No, it's usually folks like Adam (Robson), who lives in a cabin some distance away from any neighbors, and a peculiar type besides: Completely shaved, displaying signs of obsessive-compulsive behavior or some similar disorder, spending his days walking around the woods and nights dreaming of a missing boy (Aidan Kokotilo-Moen). His only contact with the outside world aside from the Internet is Grace (Brownen Smith), who delivers his fresh produce and researches the Skyquake mystery when she hears about it from Adam.

Robson is a Vancouver-based actor who has had a guest-starring role on seemingly all of the shows that shoot there, so it's at least a little to be expected that Adam is a chance for him to take center stage as opposed to being subservient to the regular cast. He certainly doesn't disappoint there; as much as Adam is initially defined by his extreme grooming regimen and other obvious visual cues, it's the way Robson pays attention to the smaller details and gives the character a bit of a personality and specific history even before explanations are offered that make the performance memorable. The cast is small, but he doesn't just make it a solo show with grudging acknowledgment of other people; Brownen Smith gets the time to be a multifaceted complement to Adam as Grace.

Adam being visually distinctive isn't just a way to call attention to himself, either; it's a sign of a strong eye and a fair amount of trust in his behind the scenes crew. The light outside is a reflection of Adam's pale starkness, and his home is a fine illustration of how fastidious he is in some areas and apathetic in others (what the audience doesn't initially see is also used well). The sound design is a tad aggressive, but not excessively so, and Robson uses the visual language of alien abductions as one of a number of unnerving suggestions that there is more to the story than the audience is being told.

And that's where the film ultimately collapses. Even stories not built around a major twist can fall apart as their audience learns more, especially if the latter revelations include earlier dishonesty, and Robson-the-writer falls pretty to that in disastrous fashion. Scenes that are supposed to give the audience a more complete picture wind up damaging the connection it has with the characters, and just when one is starting to adjust, Robson doubles down on the tactic to the point where the explanation becomes terribly strained.

"Skyquake" was probably never going to be a great movie, but it stood a decent chance of being a good one, especially considering its low budget and singular vision. It throws too much of that good material away, though, and what it comes up with instead isn't good enough to make up for that.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=30213&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/16/16 14:37:35
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2016 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Sandy Robson

Written by
  Sandy Robson

Cast
  Sandy Robson
  Bronwen Smith
  John Prowse



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