Movie Review: “Dark Skies”

ImageThe standard issue alien abduction thriller gains a few paranormal touches and a taste of the Living Dead in “Dark Skies,” a sometimes hair-raising riff on all the “Communions” that have come before.

It’s a passably chilling bit of nonsense that builds on the past, the tropes of the genre, and relies on them for the odd jolt and the occasional ironic laugh.

Yes, the aliens are abducting us, but only those of us who didn’t heed the warning “Signs.”

Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton play struggling suburbanites – she’s a real estate agent, he’s an unemployed architect – who suddenly have weird lights, weirder noises, nightly kitchen re-arranging and unseen threats to their two boys to go along with a battered marriage, long-term unemployment and a mortgage in arrears. “Dark Skies” is about how they and their confused kids handle all this.

Not very well, as you might expect.

Lacey (Russell) hears things and sees things. She’s at a loss to understand what took everything out of their kitchen cabinets and parked these things in precarious stacks, all the way to the ceiling. Daniel (Hamilton) is less credulous.

“We’re not those people who believe in crazy things!”

He’s fibbing to her about his job interviews, and she’s not telling him everything that’s going on at home, how little Sammy (Kaden Rockett) keeps having nightmares about “The Sand Man.”

The lies come out and the marriage earns its ugliest test when they come face to face with the impossible. The movie sinks or swims not on our belief that this is happening to them, but on the players’ beliefs, and neither adult gets frantic or worked up enough to be convincing.

At the very least, the first time Lacey spies a spindly alien from “Signs” standing over her child’s bed, her freak-out should be epic. Both actors play muted shock, not panic.

And panic was called for.

Dark-Skies_510x317

As episodes pile up – catatonic fits, mass bird collisions with their house, strange bruising on their kids (Dakota Goyo is Jesse, the oldest) that has the neighbors sure they’re nut-job child-abusers, you’d expect a mania to set in. Daniel and Lacey can only manage confusion, and solutions borrowed from “Paranormal Activity” (surveillance cameras), “Night of the Living Dead” (barricading the windows) and every other modern horror movie (Internet searches, where “The Truth,” or at least “The Conspiracy is Out There”).

That last step delivers the movie’s most fascinating character, an “expert” (J.K. Simmons) on “visitations” whose resignation and exhaustion at their fate, which mirrors his, seems earned. Lacey and Daniel seem beaten before they start.

Visual effects man turned writer-director Scott Stewart has turned away from the “Legion” and “Priest” D-movies with their angels and vampires and patched together something of an expertly shot and cut mash-up here. He’s very good at managing tension, and the script doles out the requisite shocks at decent intervals.

But what’s missing is that “Insidous” empathy, the sense of parents terrified for their kids, a terror that the viewer should and would share, if only we’d been given more reason to care or a surer  sense that they do.

(Roger Moore’s Interview with Keri Russell is here.)

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, terror throughout, sexual material, drug content and language – all involving teens

Cast: Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo, J.K. Simmons

Credits: Written and directed by Scott Stewart. A Dimension release.

Running time: 1:35

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4 Responses to Movie Review: “Dark Skies”

  1. Pingback: Interview: Keri Russell reinvents herself | Movie Nation

  2. TyRawrrnosaurus says:

    I’m not sure which movie you were watching. The last 15 minutes had a decent amount of emotion regarding the parents fearing for their kids safety. Could they have shown more, yes, but you can’t say they didn’t try. You say there was good tension built up, but in the end of your review say we needed more reason to care. I believe the tension does a pretty fine job of giving the viewer a reason to fear the inevitable. If only we hadn’t seen this movie before. Dark Skies = Insidious + Signs.

    • Yeah, it is pretty much a recycling. He loses points for originality. Or lack thereof. As he did for “Priest” and “Legion.” There’s a general, “This is interestingly done/seen this before” to Stewart’s movies.
      And “Insidious” and “Mama” are examples of movies where the empathy is right in our face. We care what happens to the kids because Patrick Wilson or Jessica Chastain plainly do.
      I might suggest that if you’re going to agree with most of the points in a review, starting your comment with “I’m not sure which movie you were watching” wrecks your argument. Plainly, we saw the same film and had much the same reaction.

  3. Nice review. I was extremely disappointed with this movie. While it had a few things going for it (like David Boyd) it wasn’t enough. The script and setting of this movie were too familiar to horror fans to allow it any spot in the greater Horror Genre.

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