Abduction and Alien Agendas are Obscured in "Dark Skies" Review

With the recent surge of ghost and demon-based horror films crowding the cinemas (and the genre in general) -- Paranormal Activity, The Last Exorcism, The Ring, The Grudge, Insidious, etc. -- other classic sources of terror have fallen by the wayside over the last decade. One of the most neglected areas of horror might be the good old fashioned alien abduction trope with only a few less than mediocre titles coming to mind: Apollo 18, The Fourth Kind, Signs or Cloverfield. As action epics, alien invasion plots are as popular as ever, but when it comes to horror it's far more cost effective to suggest an invisible entity like a ghost than it is to actually have to do so costume or CGI work and create an alien. Maybe that's why Scott Stewart's Dark Skies feels like a welcome change of pace and hopefully the start of a trend for a return to a time when an audience's love of the weird and supernatural wasn't focused so heavily on the phantasmal but rather on the unknown and things that go bump in the night.

Though they live in a suburban paradise ideal for raising their two sons Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and Sam (Kadan Rockett), Lacy (Keri Russell) and Daniel Barrett (Josh Hamilton) are struggling to keep their heads above the rising waters of financial debt. That stress only gets worse when a series of mysterious break-ins to their home and strange behavior by their youngest, Sam, starts to put everyone in the family on edge. Is someone pulling a prank? Is Sam sleepwalking? Whatever's going on only seems to be getting worse and afflicting the rest of the family with odd rashes, unaccountable losses of time in the middle of the day, flocks of birds flying a kamikaze route into the side of their house, and odd bruises and markings that finally drive Lacy and Daniel into a panic. Seeking help from a man who claims to be an expert (J.K. Simmons), the Barretts learn they're not the first family to have these problems and that the worst is yet to come.

If you learned anything watching the alien conspiracy of X-Files play out back in the 90s, then all the afflictions the Barrett family experiences start to tick off boxes on the list of criteria for alien abductions. While writer and director Scott Stewart leaves it as vague as possible for the first half of the film, once he lets the cat out of the bag (where it was safer if the villains happen to be of the ALF variety) the events snowball quickly and the pace of creepy occurrences never lets up until the end. Dark Skies covers its tracks most of the time, offering explanations for most occurrences while being just vague enough the rest of the time so that it neither confirms nor denies your suspicions of how it might end.

However, that said, if you're looking for a twist, you'll likely see the one Dark Skies tries to pull coming from a mile away. The little hints dropped throughout the film which were intended as a way to make it so audiences wouldn't feel blindsided are in fact far too overt, especially when coupled with J.K. Simmons's character who lists a number of symptoms of the Barrett family's suspected affliction. If you've been paying attention up to that point, the twist is all but ruined, spelled out for you with the climax just around the corner. That doesn't stop the effects from being any less spooky as we watch Keri Russell walk scared out of her mind down a hallway with a presence lingering just behind her, but it does mean the final reveal is a bit expected.

Though it's not a perfect horror film, it's a guilty pleasure for anyone who wishes they made more horror movies that don't involve ghosts or demons. With above par performances (for a horror movie) from the great cast of Russell, Hamilton, Goyo, and Simmons, Dark Skies easily sets itself apart from the more schlocky films like it that have neither the acting talent nor the well-paced story and the restraint to not show too much and lessen the impact of seeing what's stalking the Barrett family. There are just enough unexpected creative choices to catch people off-guard, but rarely is it scary. More often than not it's just eerie, and for now that'll do.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

The combo pack includes the film on Blu-ray, DVD, and as an Ultraviolet digital copy. On the discs, there's an unfortunate lack of extras with only deleted and alternate scenes and an audio commentary.

"Dark Skies" is on sale May 28, 2013 and is rated PG13. Horror, Sci-Fi. Written and directed by Scott Stewart. Starring Dakota Goyo, JK Simmons, Josh Hamilton, Keri Russell, Kadan Rockett.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


New Reviews