Dark Skies

Dark Skies photo starrating-3stars.jpgLacy and Daniel are the Barretts, a married couple with two boys, Jesse a teen, and Sam their youngest. Father Daniel has lost his job and is trying to find employment. Mother Lacy is a real estate agent desperately attempting to sell houses in disrepair as fixer-uppers. Jesse hangs out with an older boy they deem to be a bad influence and little Sam is experiencing sleepwalking fits. Then strange things begin happening. Someone starts sculpturally stacking food in the kitchen, family photographs vanish from their frames, false alarm sensors are tripped throughout their home at the same time. Apparently mounting stress and piling bills are the least of their problems. PG-13 presentation mines the territory of a suburban nightmare.

At first when I heard the ads marketing Dark Skies as from the producers of Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and Sinister, I rolled my eyes. Yeah those were good movies, but the writer and/or director is a more accurate indicator of quality. Scott Stewart also wrote and directed the execrable Legion so I wasn’t optimistic. The thing is, Dark Skies is indeed closer in spirit to those horror pictures than to that apocalyptic action film. Admittedly, this doesn’t break new ground. Despite the fact it has nothing to do with ghosts, anyone who had seen Poltergeist will feel this is awfully familiar. It’s a fairly rote horror story, but there are some twists. The narrative interestingly exploits the idea that the parents are being made to look unfit due to the escalating afflictions the family publicly endures.

The cast is solid. Acting in horror can be difficult because the circumstances can be a bit ludicrous. Josh Hamilton is a sympathetic father. He’s likeable. Slightly less warm, but more sensible is Keri Russell as the mom who puts the pieces together as to what’s occurring well before her husband. A horror cliché is the character who has already figured everything out, but must now convince those who will not listen or believe – deliberately adding to the audience’s frustrations. Though I question whether Russell appropriately conveys the fear the average mother would exhibit. Hearing that her youngest is having conversations with someone who visits him at night should’ve prompted more panic. Oh and I almost forgot to mention a memorable cameo by J.K. Simmons who plays Tangina er uh I mean Edwin Pollard, the resident expert on supernatural phenomena.

Dark Skies isn’t innovative, but thankfully it sidesteps tired genre conventions at least. The blood/gore factor is virtually non-existent. The lazy technique relying on loud bursts of noise to cause jump scares, is kept to a minimum. Even the “Gotcha! It was all a dream” gag is intelligently toyed with in an early scene. The script seems aware of overused plot devices. It’s extremely spooky in parts. Furthermore, it never shows more than it should, so the threat always feels mysterious. No this isn’t original, but it manages to create a pretty evocative mood. What it lacks in creativity, it makes up for in creepiness.

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21 Responses to “Dark Skies”

  1. I don’t understand why the reviews are so bad. It was very eerie and scary. I got the chills more than once. It had flaws but I really enjoyed its slow pace. 3 stars.

  2. Great review Mark. Glad you enjoyed it, and I think I may actually see this when it comes to DVD now. I’m suddenly curious.

    • Definitely a rental over a theater viewing. As long as you approach it without high expectations, I think you’ll enjoy some minor scares.

      • By the way I watched Friday the 13th Part 2 yesterday….oh it was the greatest horror flick since The Exorcist! (You knew I was going to steal your joke, and ever so poorly. 😉 )

    • Ha! My only fear is that someone from marketing will find that joke and use it in the ads for this film – with my name next to it.

      • Ben Lyons :/ oh wait he was always serious haha

      • If you have Roger Ebert’s Questions for the Movie Answer Man there’s a whole long section of debates about stuff marketers pulled from his reviews to make ads for sub par movies into something along the lines of propaganda. Really fun schadenfreude reading it, considering how much it annoys him (and every critic).

  3. I was very curious about this film, didn’t know anything about and was hesitant to see it in the theaters. But I think I’ll go see it next week. Great review, seems like it’s not a total waste of money.

    • It certainly doesn’t re-invent horror films. It follows timeworn fundamentals you’ve seen in countless scary movies, BUT they’re skillfully presented. I liked this better than Mama for example.

  4. You have a great point about how this movie isn’t all that original (even though its aliens, they borrow a lot from ghost movies) but that its creepy. I mentioned that in my review, myself. I SHOULD have mentioned the dream gag, like you did though. They went to that well a couple of times, and it kind of irritated me. LOL

    The big thing to me was the end, which I dont see you meniton… what did you think of the ending Mark?

  5. It’s funny because as I was reading your intro I was thinking that the film sounded a lot like Poltergeist, so I laughed when I actually got to the part where you said it would seem awfully familiar to anyone who has seen Poltergeist. I generally love J.K. Simmons no matter where he pops up. Even if he’s a Tangina rip off I’ll still probably want to see him in this movie. Overall it sounds very middle of the road. It doesn’t try to make any waves and it seems like that works since it avoids tired genre conventions. Didn’t suspect it to be spooky or creepy. Maybe I’ll rent this one at some point.

    • It would make a very fine rental, or even at a “dollar” theater just before it’s released to DVD.

      And I agree with you about J.K. Simmons. He’s such a memorable character actor. Vern Schillinger – the neo-Nazi that he played in the HBO prison drama Oz – was such a chilling role, it’s still the first thing I identify with him.

  6. I enjoyed this one too. And personally, i liked that it at least included financial distress in its plot. I feel like with that whole financial crisis there would be more movies about that…but for whatever reason that hasn’t really happened

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