Review: Dark Skies
PLOT: The Barrett family is struggling to make ends meet. After Daniel Barrett is laid off, his wife Lacy struggles to bring in enough income to keep them out of debt. Things only get worse when strange occurrences begin to happen in the dark hours of the night affecting their relationship with their children. Is something other worldly visiting them while they sleep? Where is Mulder and Scully when you need them?
From a parental standpoint there are some truly terrifying events that occur in the new alien thriller DARK SKIES. The film begins following the very basic “haunted house” flick clichés including strange things happening in the night and children having scary dreams. Thankfully, unlike most of the recent onslaught of PG-13 rated horror films, this Scott Stewart directed feature keeps the spooky happenings surprisingly grounded – especially considering this is the director of the over-the-top action flicks LEGION and PRIEST. Even at the very end he mostly avoids the insanely goofy CGI finale that is a usual factor in these types of films. Of course there are moments when the reveal of the film’s nightmarish creatures are far from scary, although they are kept at a minimum.
The one thing that really works here is the casting of Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo and young Kadan Rockett as the Barrett family. Husband and wife Daniel and Lacy are trying desperately to keep their family together. Daniel has currently been laid off and is searching for a job; meanwhile Lacy brings in some income as a realtor. Soon they find that bizarre things are happening in their household and the children Jesse (Goyo) and Sam (Rockett) are feeling the stress, it works unexpectedly well. This is a likable family that has fallen upon hard times and I found myself caring about their situation. Things get especially tense when the threat of child services looms over them after a particularly unsettling scene at a pool party – even if it is a tad bit melodramatic.
As good as they talent is here, why waste the great J.K. Simmons as a character who shows up to explain things that could have been revealed with a little more life and originality. This is where the film’s deliberate pace is noticeable. Once the Barrett family feels the strange presence looming each and every night the audience is already in on the joke. The screenplay by Stewart tends to stick to the basics of this structure and we know for the most part exactly which road we are traveling. The basic plot line is followed and Simmons shows up to explain the obvious, they even do a short reminder near the end to let the audience in on what we have already witnessed. All of this may be unnecessary but it didn’t keep me from rooting for them.
Dakota Goyo was an especially smart choice to play their thirteen-year-old son. This Canadian born actor carries much of the weight of the film which hints at more of a coming-of-age story as opposed to a basic horror film. Whether he is hanging around his “bad influence” best friend Ratner (L.J. Benet) or squabbling with his parents he shows an impressive amount of honest to goodness vulnerability. Goyo is a terrific young actor and the relationship he has with his on-screen younger sibling – played by Rockett – is especially good. The same can be said about the chemistry between Russell and Hamilton, as the two solid actors add credibility and make the film work better than it could have.
Generally when films like this begin with the focus on the family it stays there until the dark forces prevail. Soon you find the story drowning in special effects and a few too many boo scares. DARK SKIES certainly gives into a few too many of these moments and it occasionally gives the audience reason to chuckle as opposed to scream. When we do get a glimpse of the mysterious forces at work, it sort of feels like one of these reenactments on “real life UFO stories” that they feature on the SyFy Network.
I liked DARK SKIES. It may not be all that scary thanks to an overly obvious series of events but I really cared about this family. What could have been an over bloated CGI-fest smartly remains character driven for most of its running time. I did have a problem with the dumbing down that the film insisted on doing. Trust the audience a little more people, we can figure this stuff out. With all its faults however I’m surprised that this was hidden from critics. DARK SKIES may not be groundbreaking, but there are worse ways to spend a bargain matinee at the movies. If you are a fan of alien abduction thrillers like FIRE IN THE SKY and don’t mind a slight dose of influence from the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY end of horror – yes, there are surveillance cameras involved but this is not a found footage flick at all – then this might be worth checking out.