“Dark Skies” adds a sci-fi twist to the currently popular run of supernatural Hollywood horror typified by the likes of “Paranormal Activity”, “Sinister”, “Insidious” and others, with aliens taking the place of daft demons. Produced by Jason Blum, who worked on the afore-mentioned hits, the film was written and directed by Scott Stewart – a name that might make some run to the hills, given that his last two outings were the entirely risible religious fantasy actioners “Legion” and “Priest”.
The story is very familiar stuff indeed, following Keri Russell (“The Americans”) and Josh Hamilton (“J. Edgar”) as the suburban Barretts, a regular couple dealing with the usual economic problems while bringing up their vaguely troublesome sons. With the older Jesse (Dakota Goyo, “Real Steel”) hanging out with the local bad kid and getting into mild partying being difficult enough to deal with, matters take a turn for the weird when young Sam (Kadan Rockett) starts being disturbed by nightly visits from ‘The Sandman’, who of course no-one else can see. Things quickly escalate, and the family start to experience strange occurrences, unexplained wounds and threatening visions, leading them to believe that they have been targeted by a sinister, other-worldly force whose intentions are less than decent.
Although “Dark Skies” at least isn’t another found footage outing, pretty much everything about it is entirely predictable and by the numbers. As well as “Paranormal Activity”, Scott Stewart also draws heavily from older films such as “Signs” and “Poltergeist”, lifting scenes liberally here and there and never really managing to add much – sadly, the science fiction element ultimately counts for nothing, the aliens and their schemes never being developed, meaning that there’s little difference between them and the usual spirits and devils. The plot follows the standard script to the letter, from the slowly building visitations and threats through to the question as to which of the family members the evil extros are after – right down to having the desperate Barretts track down an internet crackpot expert to go to for advice, played with amusing relish by J.K. Simmons (“Spiderman”), who lays down the rules and dos and don’ts regarding alien abduction.
Total lack of originality aside, “Dark Skies” really isn’t too bad, and for unfussy genre fans it’s actually quite well done and above average for this kind of film, Stewart putting in a far better showing here both as writer and director than on his last efforts. Though derivative to a fault, the story plays out engagingly enough, aiming for a slow burn atmosphere rather than cheap CGI scares, and this generally works well. Despite a lack of gore or anything nasty, there’s a certain mean-spiritedness throughout in the way that the aliens pointlessly torment the family, which combined with a couple of effectively cruel last act twists helps to make it a reasonably chilling affair. Stewart successfully keeps the film grounded, and though the pace is slow and the film feels at times overly focused on domestic drama, it’s believable enough to make the viewer more sympathetic to the family’s plight, thanks also to some decent performances all round from the cast.
With “Dark Skies” being perfectly solid in most respects, the question here is really whether viewers are tired yet of this kind of commercially minded, middle of the road suburban genre cinema, and of scenes of families struggling against ghosts/demons/aliens while their kids get possessed/abducted. If yes, then it’s probably best to stay away, though if not, then by all means give the film a chance, as while offering nothing new, it’s an entertaining and well-made time-waster in its own modest way.
“Dark Skies” is available on Region 2 DVD, Blu-Ray and for download from Monday 5th August 2013 through Entertainment One.
Scott Stewart (director) / Scott Stewart (screenplay)
CAST: Keri Russell … Lacy Barrett
Josh Hamilton … Daniel Barrett
Dakota Goyo … Jesse Barrett
Kadan Rockett … Sam Barrett
J.K. Simmons … Edwin Pollard
L.J. Benet … Kevin Ratner