'Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.'- Arthur C. Clark
The film “Dark Skies” opens with this quote. It easily defined what the film is going to be about and just how something so unknown can prove to be disruptive in our lives. Such are the themes in this 2013 film directed by Scott Stewart who also directed “Priest” and “Legion”) as brings a story about a family being assaulted by a malevolent alien force.
Daniel and Lacy Barrett (Josh Hamilton and Keri Russell) is a married couple with two children, Sam and Jesse (Dakota Goyo and Kadan Rockett). They live in their lovely home, and despite their money problems, they managed to keep things together. Daniel has been unemployed and is struggling to find work while Lacy has her own challenges in real estate. These are normal things that a family can deal with, but when strange things begin to occur, as their kitchen had been ransacked and stuff had been rearranged, they try to find the answer. But before long, things get worst as the family members themselves begin to experience several frightening occurrences that challenge any logical explanation.
Let’s get one thing straight, “Dark Skies” is not a sci-fi film, to see it as one would no doubt make it fail as a film since it was never intended to be one. “Dark Skies” is a horror film that has glimpses of E.T. in them. Think the mini-series “Taken” that collides with “Paranormal Activity” and “Insidious” with some “Sinister” and the “X-Files” thrown in for good measure. The plot developments, characters and the devices all scream ‘horror film’ that once you take away the alien device and replace it with a demonic force or a violent poltergeist, it would work just as well.
Scott Stewart wrote and directed “Dark Skies”. He keeps things simple with a slow build up as the viewer is taken into the experiences of one family. Basically, the film communicates just how easy it would be for an unknown force to damage one’s life, no matter how hard we try to cope, it always become a hellish experience. He makes things close to the troubled economy to give the viewer something to relate to, as to how kids would try to keep things going on their side (see the way Jesse tries to cope by hanging out and focuses on a ‘crush’), these are things a family can easily deal with, but something unknown can just disrupt the natural flow of things. A family may have issues accepting and dealing with it and as such, they become divided. These are the way Stewart defines his themes, and sure the film does have its own share of clichés, as almost anything about a ‘haunted house’ would.
The reason why I say that to approach “Dark Skies” from a sci-fi standpoint would be a mistake is because it barely fulfills the list that is inherent in a sci-fi movie. Yes, it does use several alien invasion-alien abductions devices, and this made the movie work. I found it to be a clever approach to approach such things with a more ’horror movie’ point of view. The build up is certainly effective in generating that feeling of dread. I could also see the feeling of helplessness from the eye of the parents as they are powerless against this force that is slowly taking over their lives. I do have to admit that the build up was strong but I did feel that it came close to becoming tedious, as nothing much happens in the middle area of the movie and I felt that it had slowed down. I do understand, that Stewart needed to put some areas where human perception would come into play when it comes to the Barrett family, but as such, the film becomes drenched in horror movie cliché.
Much as I enjoyed the film’s first act that it managed to generate moderate suspense, and bought the final act, I thought that the film lost some of its footing in the middle parts as Lacy and Daniel became what we usually see as ‘the skeptic and the believer’. Keri Russell was able to keep things together, as she convinced me that she was truly a frightened, troubled mother who feels helpless that she could not protect her children. Josh Hamilton was a little off with his performance, and there were times that I thought he was over-acting. Russell was able to carry the film’s burden though, and as much as the movie felt like another one of those ‘children in peril’ kind of deal, Dakota Goyo’s interactions gave him some needed layers to build up to the last act.
The film barely answers questions, and what little answers it gives all came out from the Edwin Pollard character (played by J.K. Simmons). That sequence in the film defined what an alien invasion is, and while the viewer is left looking for definition, the script instead makes a comparison to a guinea pig and a guy in a white lab coat. I know it felt a little convenient and maybe feels a little too easy. As I’ve said, this is not a sci-fi movie but rather one that uses haunted house-haunting devices to generate a feeling of terror in the face of an unknown alien force. While I bought the final act, I wouldn’t say that the answers it tried to pitch wasn’t without flaws. The how and why of the film left a something to be desired. But then, perhaps there are things we cannot know, and all we can do is try to ride out such things and try to put things together as best we could? I know it feels little too much, but it is what the movie is.
It may be Scott Stewart’s best directorial product to date, as it was employed with consummate deftness. I guess while “Dark Skies” held my attention, and I thought that the film was fun to watch, I do have to admit that there were a lot of times that it felt as if its clichés were merely masked by E.T.. It is at its heart a mere stereotypical horror movie with glimpses of E.T. in it, and it does not do anything new to the genre. It may have done some things right; the atmosphere and timing had some legitimate spooky appeal, and it had its good moments in its writing that it built moderate chills. No, it wasn’t inventive or original, but more of a re-application. It’s like “Ok, let’s use aliens in a haunted house/demonic flick and see what happens..”. That is what “Dark Skies” is in a nutshell. Light Recommendation to horror fans and a Rental to everybody else. [3+ Out of 5 Stars]