“Skywalkers: A Love Story” joins “Free Solo” in a film subgenre that can only be described as “F*ck That.” It’s an ultra-specific genre of documentary that showcases feats that are so incredibly dangerous that you not only shake your head in disbelief but actually get your heart beating harder as you hold your breath, imagining that if you don’t make a noise, then maybe these people won’t die right before your eyes. It’s exhilarating. It’s beautiful. But it also can make for an anxiety-inducing experience. But ‘Skywalkers’ adds a new wrinkle to the “F*ck That” world of filmmaking—an honest-to-God love story. And by the end of the film, you will, no doubt, be astounded at the seemingly impossible things you just witnessed, but you might also add a few “awwws” in between muttering “f*ck that” under your breath.
Angela Nikolau and Vanya Beerkus are not your typical couple. While some might call them influencers, they consider themselves artists. And what gave them their impressive social media following is their art—rooftopping. That’s right, these two young Russians travel the world and illegally scale the tallest buildings around. As if that wasn’t enough, they will celebrate on the rooftop with some of the most beautiful (and terrifying) photos and videos you can imagine, putting the viewer hundreds of feet in the air, often looking straight down at the world below. Oh yeah, and they don’t use any sort of safety equipment. There’s not a rope or harness to be found. As the title implies, “Skywalkers: A Love Story” is a documentary that dives deep into the lives of Angela and Vanya as they prepare for their biggest target yet—a mega skyscraper in Malaysia. A building that has never been climbed and those who have tried have been sent straight to prison. And remember, prison isn’t the only threat facing them, as they are very much putting their lives on the line.
What makes ‘Skywalkers,’ directed by Jeff Zimbalist, so remarkable is how the film serves as a document of their love from the very beginning, showing their actual first meeting, as well as the ups and downs that come with being in a relationship. All the while, we get to see these two lovebirds climbing and scaling some of the biggest buildings around the world. This film travels from Russia to Thailand to France to Malaysia and everywhere in between. And Zimbalist can use all of these locations, as well as two of the most extreme cinematographers around (Vanya and Angela don’t do anything with an arsenal of cameras), to craft what might be the most beautiful, pulse-pounding documentary of the year.
Honestly, as you watch (or a better word would be “experience”) ‘Skywalkers,’ your heart is in your throat for most of the run-time. It’s not just the sheer panic you’ll feel from seeing Vanya and Angela risk their lives around every corner, but also seeing two genuine people experiencing some of the most universal issues that face couples. And considering Zimbalist and his crew are there from the beginning, you see years of footage flash in front of you. From their early, carefree days when they were taking social media by storm as the first-ever rooftopping supercouple to months and years later when they bicker and complain about each other. However, these fights and disagreements often take place while they’re climbing scaffolding or cranes, just one false move away from sure death.
Oh, and let’s not forget the “heist” that dominates the film’s third act. You see, when Vanya and Angela are experiencing their lowest lows, as a couple, they decide that the best way to get their fire and passion back (as well as secure their social media following), they have to climb one of the tallest buildings in the world. And this is where ‘Skywalkers’ goes from being a cinéma vérité view of a young daredevil couple to one of the most thrilling heist films you’ll likely see this year. You’re right next to Vanya and Angela as they spend weeks prepping for this climb, utilizing all the technology (legal and not-so-legal) afforded them. They scout for guards and cameras. They draw diagrams. It’s seriously “Ocean’s 11,” but with no actual robbery taking place. No twists and turns will be spoiled here, but there’s no doubt anyone watching this movie will be on the edge of their seats as the final 30 minutes play out. Heart-pounding is the most apt term to use, but even that just doesn’t really do it justice.
If there is one glaring issue with ‘Skywalkers,’ then it’s likely with the entire premise. Even though the cinematography is incredible and the movie’s emotional heart is evident throughout, it’s still challenging to look past what you’re witnessing—two young people risking their lives for social media clout. Yes, it literally pays their bills, and they both come from backgrounds in Russia, where they wouldn’t typically get the chance to travel the world and experience so much. But they’re doing these things for likes and comments. And when the term “NFT” hits the screen, you may just recoil a little. But for many, it’ll be easy to look past all of that because the whole package is just so well-crafted and slick.
Every once in a while, you watch a documentary that showcases the power of the medium. It is a film that makes you shake your head in disbelief that a filmmaker and a crew were so fortunate enough to find the perfect subjects and situations at the exact right time. ‘Skywalkers’ feels like that type of film. Zimbalist has crafted a stunning, breathtaking film that has more twists, turns, and astounding moments than most $200 million blockbusters being made today. No, it’s not perfect, as it really is a film about two 20-something influencers risking their lives for social media reasons. However, there’s no denying the power of this movie, both in its visuals and the love story. A seriously worthy addition to the “Fuck That” genre. [B+]