Dark Skies (2013) / Sci Fi-Thriller
MPAA rated: PG-13 for violence, sexual material, drug content, and language, all involving teens
Running time: 97 min.
Cast: Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo, Kadan Rockett, L.J. Benet, J.K. Simmons, Annie Thurman, Jake Washburn
Director: Scott Stewart
Screenplay: Scott Stewart
Review published May 11, 2013
Some people might call this a clone of Paranormal Activity, except playing out as a thriller instead of a found-footage tape, and with aliens as the home invaders rather than evil spirits. While Dark Skies isn't a bad film in any particular sense, this is just one of those cases when a movie probably just shouldn't have been made around the subject matter.
The Paranormal Activity part comes from people living in a suburban home who are disturbed in their sleep by creepy events, such as waking up in different parts of the house, or outdoors, and the use of surveillance equipment to try to catch the perpetrator(s) in the act of this disturbance. As is the case with horror movie staples, the family involved remains rooted in their home, come what may. There is an undercurrent of the difficult housing and job market of its era, playing on fears of couples being driven from their homes, but this tidbit is never really developed sufficiently that one could easily read social commentary into the film beyond just this notion.
Dark Skies benefits from a good ensemble of actors who give their roles a plausible respectability, and Scott Stewart's (Priest, Legion) dialogue that feels right for the moment. Stewart's direction is fine as well, but it's just that the material, specifically the plot, is stale, with elements cobbled together from several well-known movie sources. There is an attempt at some sort of twist ending, a la M. Night Shyamalan, but even this adds so very little to the story as a whole, and comes off like a gimmick just to give the film a 'big reveal' even if it doesn't really merit one. Superfluous material, such as the eldest boy's first dalliances with romance, seem incongruous with the rest of the story.
Perhaps if Stewart hadn't given up the goods with the opening line by sci-fi maestro Arthur C. Clarke (“Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”), we would have had at least the semblance of a mystery as to the nature of the weird, nightmarish events. Stewart plays out the film as if it were a traditional 'haunted house' film, but because we already know it is about alien life, we merely watch the characters go through predictable motions until the story catches up with what we already surmise, and the only things keeping viewers reeled in are basic questions such as, 'why are they doing this?' and "how will the family get out of it?' Neither question is answered in a satisfactory way at the time of the credit roll.
Had this been an episode of a TV series about aliens, perhaps Dark Skies might have merited a few accolades for its credible moments. As a film, it's a bore, and probably only of interest for religious people who like so-called scary movies but aren't allowed to see one involving anything that derives its malevolent force from the occult, or anything with an R rating. It isn't scary (unless you think birds flying into houses, family photos gone missing, or household items being stacked in strange ways as terrifying events), just occasionally eerie, and without anything new to add to science fiction lore, it misses the boat entirely to its sci-fi/horror demographic it is marketed toward.
©2013 Vince Leo