THE SKY HAS FALLEN: Pulling Off a Zombie Plague With Pocket Change

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The Sky Has Fallen (2009)
Written and Directed by Doug Roos
The Sky Has Fallen Official Site

There are many ways thrifty filmmakers can overcome tiny budgets to produce a memorable film. Unique shot selections, a tightly written story, and a little elbow grease can go a long way in lessening the deficit. Filmmakers we consider masters of the genre used innovation in the face of ultra low budgets to deliver respected and revered films. Getting the most out of the building blocks – the script, actors, and location – is the first step in making true magic happen. It doesn’t hurt to have a few stomach-churning special effects.

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Microbudget filmmaker Doug Roos obviously has a love for the mavericks of which I speak. His self-funded post-apocalyptic zombie splatter feature The Sky Has Fallen is clearly a love letter to Raimi and Romero, post-apocalypse films like Versus and Stake Land, and even a hint of the Leone spaghetti western. Though his film is an ode to those masters, his film does fall a little short of displaying the dizzying innovation of his forebears. Roos – wearing many hats on this production – splashes buckets blood and gore across the film. However, amazing special makeup effects and wall-to-wall gore isn’t necessarily enough to make up for shortcomings in the other categories.

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The Sky Has Fallen is a character-driven zombie apocalypse film. It’s the story of Lance (Carey MacLaren) and Rachel (Laurel Kemper), two survivors drawn together by the need for survival and companionship. The stoic Lance, a sword-wielding warrior, is reluctant to team with Rachel on his quest for vengeance against the “Leader” of a pack of vicious mutant zombies. Guilt prevails, and Lance agrees to let Rachel tag along. On the path, they encounter hordes of mutated undead creatures assembled from spare parts, as well as eerie hooded beings responsible for the disease. Armed with a sword, guns, and vitriol, the two turn the woods into an abattoir on their way to a showdown with the mysterious Leader. 

If The Sky Has Fallen was made to showcase the effects work of Roos and his fellow artists, then it is a success. The work here is impressive, especially considering the pennies at their disposal. A number of the creatures have been pieced together from numerous bodies by the Leader. The sight of their shambling bodies and gore-encrusted visages harken back to those classic Fulci zombies in Zombi 2 and City of the Living Dead. They aren’t recognizable as once human, and they’re quite repulsive. I’m not sure if a creepier group of zombies has been assembled in quite some time. 

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I have to give Roos props because he did attempt to add some depth to his characters. Similar films use characters merely as vessels to get from one violent set piece to another. Roos tries to give some gravity to his characters by having them recount pieces of their personal histories to one another. Roos is at least trying to develop his characters, and he clearly cares about them. The problem is that the dialogue is stilted and cliche. Lance delivers the standard tough loner lines without a hint of irony. It doesn’t help that both MacLaren and Kemper speak in a monotone bordering on wooden. I do understand the reasoning behind it. Roos has tried desperately to bring a level of sadness and longing to the table. I just don’t think the actors are capable of reaching the appropriate level of emotion to pull it off.

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Another problem with the film is that it’s very repetitious. There are multiple scenes of Lance cutting down groups of zombies. These are followed by bonding moments between Lance and Rachel, walking and conversing in the woods. Roos uses nearly all close ups of faces and medium shots of swinging swords to show the action, and a similar assemblage of close ups for the non-action scenes. There isn’t enough variety to get the full scope, so it sometimes looks like we’re seeing the same few shots over and over. He’s also missing longer, wider shots to establish a sense of place. His film takes place mostly in the woods, but there isn’t much visual hint at the devastation to the rest of the world. This could have been something as simple as finding a dilapidated old factory, and getting some shots of wandering zombies there. I’m not sure if not having enough money is a viable excuse here. The real solution would be having a DP willing to take more chances and really get creative.

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I’d like to comment on the film score which contains some very somber orchestral music. It’s a great score by James Sizemore, and one that raises the level of the film. It also proves that Roos was aiming higher than what we get from the finished product. It’s choices like these that I admire.

I’d recommend The Sky Has Fallen mostly to gore fans and those who appreciate a DIY approach to filmmaking. To Mr. Roos, I’d suggest spending a little more time polishing the screenplay, expand your shot selection a bit, and really work with your actors and you’ll get there. Despite my list of complaints, there is a solid foundation here, one that hints at an artist with some great potential and a whole lot of heart.

The Sky Has Fallen Trailer

Mike Snoonian

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since 2009 Mike has written about independent horror, science fiction, cult and thrillers through his own blog All Things Horror along with various other spots on the web. Film Thrills marks his attempt to take things up a notch, expand his viewing and writing horizons and to entertain and engage his audience while doing so. When Mike's not writing or watching movies, you can find him reading to his little girl, or doing science experiments with her, or trying to convince her that the term "chicken butt" comes from people putting chicken nuggets down their underwear. at age five, she's too smart to believe most of what he says.

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