When Chris Norton (Ryan Carnes) was a little boy, he loved to make his own home movies, usually on a science fiction theme, but one night while filming he heard his parents fighting downstairs, for the umpteenth time, and captured their latest argument on his camera. But it went further than that, as his father (Peter Stormare) hit his mother to the floor and she walked out on them both, disappearing into the night in an action his father believed was an alien abduction when there were mysterious lights in the sky coinciding with her exit. No fan of his dad, Chris has grown up to be a documentarian sceptic, determined to blow the lid off this whole alien scam once and for all...
The UFO industry certainly makes a pretty penny out of the true believers, and out of the casual observer as well, but as Beyond the Sky (a retitling that makes it sound like Kevin Spacey's Bobby Darin biopic) was classed as a science fiction effort, your doubts that what Chris investigated would turn out to be a sham would be well-founded. Who wants to watch a story based in paranormal phenomena where all is revealed as a perfectly rational explanation, after all? Not the sort of viewer who would seek out a film such as this, and true to form, it did become predictable within about five minutes of the protagonist seeking out a UFO convention for proof of his thesis.
There were points where director Fulvio Sestito and his writers hit upon an interesting line of enquiry that would have made for a more substantial experience. When Chris and his right hand man Brent (Claude Duhamel) begin to meet people who are on the fluffy woo end of the belief spectrum it's as if they've hit upon a cult of the terminally misguided who are being exploited either by similar believers or more unscrupulous denizens of the secret information brigade, just like the religious can fall prey to those who will take advantage of their faith for financial gain. A film about that could have been a bracing exercise, a splash of cold water in the face of the movement.
Naturally, that's not what you had in store as Chris encounters Emily (Jordan Hinson), who claims to have been abducted every seven years since she was seven years old, and guess what, it's her twenty-eighth birthday in a couple of days! A perfect opportunity to find out if anything weird will occur, thinks our hero, though Emily herself is hostile at first because of his blatant scepticism. That said, he does suggest she undergo hypnotic regression, which doesn't sound anything like a real sceptic would say, he might as well try and analyse her dreams for all the good that would do. Anyway, she is friends with the older Bill Johnson (Don Stark), who initially seems avuncular but then becomes threatening - is he trying to protect Emily, or does he have a sinister government agenda of his own to implement?
There was a whole season of The X-Files worth of scenarios packed into a fairly scanty running time, which saw Chris and Emily, having made friends, get up to such shenanigans as missing time episodes and a Native American vision quest (which in an unintentionally funny sequence goes a little awry), before the big reveal which was no more or no less inspired than any number of actual alien theorising (apart from the theorising that it's all made up, of course). UFO buffs were enticed to watch by the promise of famed seventies abductee Travis Walton "as himself", but this turned out to be a cheat: any hopes of seeing Travis re-welcomed by the space brothers were thwarted when he merely appeared for seconds at the end in convention footage, and was given no chance to either defend or explain himself. If you approached Beyond the Sky as an item of cultural teasing, playing around with various tropes of the alien narrative, it was fine as far as that went, but was dishonest if it presented itself as the real thing. Music by Don Davis.
[There's a making of featurette on the DVD from Spirit.]