Directed by Scott Stewart. Starring Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo, Kadan Rockett, J.K. Simmons. (2013, PG-13, 97 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 1, 2013
Effectively unsettling, Dark Skies is a science-fiction thriller that plays like an episode of The Twilight Zone crossed with Poltergeist. More chilling than terrifying, this movie’s predatory aliens are creatures that mostly mess with people’s heads prior to abducting them. Why they do that seems more related to the filmmaker’s need to prolong the mystery rather than any innate alien logic – but what does this measly earthling know?
Writer-director Stewart demonstrated his prowess with genre mash-ups in his previous two films, Priest and Legion, and continues in that vein in Dark Skies. Amid all the strange and inexplicable events that occur at the Barrett household, we also witness a suburban family in financial crisis – a family whose security alarm isn’t initially tripped by the space invaders because they have canceled their contract in order to cut back on bills. At first, the occurrences are harmlessly bizarre: refrigerator contents strewn all over the floor, all the family photos removed from their picture frames. Surely the family’s two children must be acting out some personal issues. Then the nocturnal sleepwalking, nosebleeds, head-banging, and missing chunks of time begin, and youngest son Sam (Rockett) starts talking about the Sandman, a malevolent character he sees in his dreams. For sheer Hitchcockian overtones, several flocks of birds simultaneously dive-bomb the Barrett home in a spontaneous act of mass suicide. When strange marks suddenly show up on the torsos of Sam and his older brother Jesse (Goyo), the agency of Child Protective Services is contacted to investigate the parents, Lacy (Russell) and Daniel (Hamilton). The time has come to curtail the search for reasonable explanations, and after receiving invaluable advice from a seasoned veteran of alien encounters (Simmons), Lacy and Daniel buy a shotgun and an attack dog to protect their children and themselves in a final home siege.
Although the plot is essentially silly in regard to its extraterrestrial invaders, Stewart creates the film’s creepy tone by drawing out the events and resisting the urge to make them make sense. It would be enough to unbalance any family – no less one that must consider whether the problem is severe enough to spend money on psychological therapy for their son. Dark Skies is also very well-acted, which helps sell the premise. An abrupt ending that was probably trying to attain one of those last-second gotcha moments instead has the effect of slamming the movie’s inadequacies into the face of the audience. That’s a shame, because there’s also an awful lot to appreciate in Dark Skies.