Dark Skies (2013)
Directed by Scott Stewart
It's kind of unfortunate that Dimension Films has taken the approach of burying Scott Stewart's latest directorial effort because as a whole Dark Skies isn't half bad. I mean, it's by no means a sci-fi classic or anything like that, but when Stewart puts the "greys" (the term the flick prefers to use for its extraterrestrials) front and center in his suburban invasion thriller, Dark Skies is pretty intense and manages to conjure up a pleasantly unexpected ending and a few fun scares despite its PG-13 rating.
Dark Skies follows the troubled Barrett family led by Lacy (Russell) and Daniel (Hamilton), who are struggling to make ends meet and raise their kids (Goyo, Rockett), who are having issues of their own- one's sneaking into empty houses and doing drugs with the notoriously bad kid of the neighborhood, and the other is talking to a new imaginary friend called "The Sandman" who comes to visit him every night.
But as it turns out, that imaginary friend isn't so imaginary - or friendly - and soon the Barretts are forced to unite despite all their family drama in an effort to survive against an alien threat that has invaded their otherwise normal suburban home. What starts off with food sculptures and other minor shenanigans soon escalates into a terrifying nightmare for the family that includes mysterious bloody noses and flocks of birds hurling themselves at their home as well as other disturbing forms of physical and mental abuse inflicted upon them throughout the story.
And while Stewart does unfold his modern suburban paranoia tale rather sluggishly throughout the first half, once the aliens really get down to business, that's when Dark Skies is truly at its best. Neither the story or the characters are really that remarkable, and it's nothing we haven't seen before (Signs anyone?), but that doesn’t mean Dark Skies isn't good enough to stand on its own merits either.
Something I really appreciated about Dark Skies was that Stewart went at this story very practically, including the resident "expert" the Barretts seek out advice from played by veteran character actor J.K. Simmons. I enjoyed that he wasn't this crazy loon- he was just a guy who had been through it and knew that ultimately there is no solution to their problem because if the greys want to take someone from the Barrett family, it's only a matter of time, and the only choice these people have is to just continue to fight because there's no solution. Just enduring.
Unfortunately Hamilton seems a bit out of place in Stewart's story, but thankfully Russell's performance absolutely elevates Dark Skies from being something you'd watch on a Saturday afternoon on Lifetime. She's always had a fantastic ability to tell a story just with an expression, and here is no different; the burden and the constant fear Lacy lives in for herself and her family are evident just by looking at Russell with the scene of her meltdown while at work being rather unsettling.
So even though I thought that Stewart's story was a bit too plodding and drama-heavy at the start, the scares he infuses throughout Dark Skies whenever the aliens decide to have a little fun at the Barretts' expense were downright creepy at times, which should make this an enjoyable experience for those of you out there who can keep an open mind and just enjoy the movie for what it is. Hardcore horror fans will need to probably look elsewhere as Dark Skies won't end up doing much for you (hang tight until Evil Dead) so I'd recommend to those of you out there who aren't necessarily sold on the flick to check this one out down the road as a rental if you're really curious; you might end up being as surprised as I was by how much there is to like about Dark Skies once you get past all the melodrama.
3 out of 5