Studio: Alliance Films
Director: Scott Stewart
Writer: Scott Stewart
Producer: Jason Blum
Stars: Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo, Kadan Rockett, Josh Stamberg, LJ Benet, J.K. Simmons
Unexplained events and strange behavior lead one family to consider that they may be the targets of an alien visitation.
“Dark Skies” opens with this quote from Arthur C. Clarke: “Two possibilities exist… Either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” There are exceptions, but usually two possibilities exist when it comes to an alien invasion premise. Either the aliens attack en masse and in full force or they skulk about in the shadows, unseen and largely undetected. Both are not always equally entertaining, depending upon the viewer’s mood.
“Dark Skies” opts for the latter of the two options above on its leisurely march towards skin-crawling creeps. The Barretts are a typical middle class suburban family with two young boys and financial difficulties. Daniel is unemployed, which has put a strain on his relationship with wife Lacy. Not helping matters are the nightly visitations their youngest son Sam receives from “The Sandman.” Once family members begin taking turns entering unexplained trances and behaving strangely, Daniel and Lacy consult the ever-wise J.K. Simmons with their suspicions. He confirms that their family has been targeted by “The Greys,” and there is nothing that can be done to prevent the aliens from taking what they want.
The concept is simple, and the movie rightfully approaches it with a straightforward style. If say “Psycho” is the horror movie equivalent of filet mignon, then “Dark Skies” is a Big Mac. It is familiar, reliable, and does its job. At the same time, it will not survive as a memorable moment when it comes time to write a memoire. That may be a backhanded compliment, or not even a compliment at all, but it serves to illustrate that “Dark Skies” is not out to reinvent the genre, which is perfectly okay. Its true goal of providing entertainment is more laudable anyway.
When the Barretts begin to suspect that they have been visited by extraterrestrials, they consult an “expert” for guidance. This particular expert is one tinfoil helmet away from looking like every other self-proclaimed expert in the field of alien visitations. Before worrying about his mental health, however, he might need a visit from the makeover team at “Hoarders.” Any corner of his apartment not cluttered with a haphazardly placed book stack is occupied by a cat. Or two or three. Yet just as the urge to cough “stereotype” comes up when eyeing his newspaper clipping collection, the word is bit back after soaking in J.K. Simmons’ performance. “Gravitas” is too pretentious of a term, but Simmons has a delivery method that makes it easy to buy into unlikely scenarios.
Keri Russell raises the ante with her own demonstration of how a strong performance breathes life into what is typed on the page. The film is only 90 minutes, and there are four core family members to come to know. They are given almost perfunctory characterizations, but the actors have a commitment to the script and it is their serious approach that elevates average plotting into familial terror that can be empathized.
With a less capable cast, “Dark Skies” would drown in mediocrity from a story composed mostly of recycled elements from other thrillers. But whether it is paying homage, borrowing, or outright stealing, the film has a competency in how to take from a trick bag of what works and weave familiar scenarios back into a modest chiller of alien visitation.
Sure, that trick bag also doubles as a mixed bag. Several threads (the father’s job search, the oldest boy’s crush) do not contribute much story-wise, though they do add to the family’s endearment. Scares are mostly limited to quick pops. “Dark Skies” is centered on creating atmosphere with moody cinematography than through visceral shock.
The horror genre does not cough up “aliens among us” plotlines half as much as “haunted asylum” or “lost in the woods.” There are more notable invasion films available, but they are released far enough apart that there is still a place for the PG-13 chills of “Dark Skies.” It moves at a deliberate pace, as this is a movie for those who prefer the subtly tingling terror of feeling unsafe from an unknown threat, even in one’s own home.
Review Score: 60