We horror fans are a fickle bunch. Overload us with hyperactive dread and gallons of blood and we complain about the reliance of splatter. Set up a scenario where suspense plays out in a deliberate, slow burn manner, however, and we complain about the pace. It takes a clever filmmaker to find a way to balance out these and other important fear factors. Clearly, Scott Stewart is not that auteur. After the less than successful results of Legion and Priest, you figure he’d find a way to make his often compelling genre ideas work. With Dark Skies, however, the equilibrium between science fiction and scary movie is so out of whack it throws the entire movie into a tailspin from which it can’t really recover.
When we meet the about-to-be-picked-upon Barrett family, dad Daniel (Josh Hamilton) is an out of work architect while mom Lacy (Keri Russell) is hard up for listings as a real estate agent. Money is very tight and the mortgage is overdue, yet the adults manage to keep much of said misery away from their angry adolescent boy Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and their younger son Sam (Kadan Rockett). As if to make matters worse, some strange things have started happening around their house. Food is disappearing from the fridge and unusual noises fill the night.
When Sam suggests it’s all because of a Boogeyman-like visage called “The Sandman,” everyone scoffs. Then, a swarm of birds flies into the family’s home and surveillance cameras catch three figures wandering the halls. The Barretts ask an expert named Edwin Pollard (J. K. Simmons) for help, and he suggests it is the work of aliens. Before long, the brood is under seize, struggling to fend off the evil extraterrestrials intent on taking one of them back with them…wherever that may be.
Had Dark Skies more to offer than the above stated narrative, if it didn’t feel like a rehash of a half-dozen better UFO/abduction storylines, maybe we’d like it more. There’s a redundancy here that’s hard to shake, a feeling of pure derivative déjà vu which leads to long stretches where we simply wait for the next mandatory plot cog to click in place. Struggling family? Check. Weird, unexplained phenomenon which turns the Barretts into pariahs? Sure. A second act intrusion by an otherwise excellent actor providing the buttloads of exposition necessary for you to understand the ending? Absolutely. And a last act “twist” meant to showcase the filmmaker’s flare, but which only operates to deaden are already lax enthusiasm for what we’ve already seen. Oh boy…
Yes, Dark Skies doesn’t mind throwing away any genre-jumping goodwill it may have gained over its previous 80 minutes of running time only to argue for how slick it is for trying to pull a cinematic fast one. When the moment arrives, and it does stick out like the proverbial sore thumb, it’s distracting. When it resolves itself into a less than satisfying statement of intent, the reverberations are fatal. Even if you were willing to waste an hour plus of your time watching the tediously slow adventures of this family under the spaceman gun play out, the finale foils your possible enjoyment. It’s one of those “gotchas” that does neither. Instead, it just frustrates.
Unlike The Fourth Kind, which used its own bizarro-world true/false approach to make alien abduction terrifying, Dark Skies is just the usually scary movie malarkey. It’s yet another example of horror that can’t make up its mind, and as a result, can’t satisfy.