Saturday, July 20, 2013

Dark Skies ~ Dark - But Not So Dark

Dark Skies - Banner | A Constantly Racing Mind
The film “Dark Skies” is one of those horror movies that work very hard to get everything just right yet somehow fails to hit the mark.  A story about a nice suburban family haunted, not by ghosts, but by alien creatures.  Scott Stewart, director of "Priest," and "Legion" went to great lengths to construct a story that was more about suspense and mounting tension than it was about jump scares and the usual horror tropes.  "Dark Skies" stars Kerri Russell and Josh Hamilton as the Barretts.  They play mother and father of your typically normal, semi dysfunctional parents of two boys.  Lacy (Russell) and Daniel (Hamilton) along with their two kids find themselves in the midst of paranormal happenings in the midst of suburban America.  "Dark Skies" runs just a tad over an hour and a half, and is rated PG-13.


Director Scott Stewart takes his time setting up the idyllic suburban environment, and allows us time to get to know the characters.  The family that we are presented with is typical and relatable.  Daniel (Josh Hamilton), average 21st century 30ish professional, who like many of us recently, is out of work due to the economy.  Lacey (Kerri Russell), shows homes as a realtor and takes care of their two sons.  Jesse, played by Dakota Goyo ("Real Steel"), is the oldest at 13.  He hangs out with an older friend Kevin Ratner or just Ratner (L.J. Benet), you know the guy, always "says" he's made out with tons of girls, smokes pot, and likes to sneak peeks at porn and then complain that he's done better, all for Jesse's sake.  In spite of being exposed to Ratner, Jesse is a good friend to his six-year-old brother Sam (Kadan Rockett).  We see Jesse for what he is, a young preteen coming of age, and seeking a sense of normal in spite of all the weirdness that surrounds him. One of the elements that Stewart portrays is the sense of family, a sense of realism.
 
The brothers, get along in spite of a six-year age difference.  Jesse reads to Sam scary bedtime stories over walkie-talkies at night while in bed in their own rooms, and in their own beds.  Sam, the six year-old, of all the characters is the one that the audience relates to the most as abnormal events start to unfold.  Sam is seemingly haunted by nightmares of the Sandman coming to eat out his eyes.  Daniel is a frustrated and out of work architect, who in spite of his experience, just can't find work, and worries about paying bills.  Lacey, comes across as the most sensible family member, the rock of the family, until the weirdness starts.  First, there are crop circles in their kitchen, and then pictures disappear out of their picture frames.  The cops are called the alarms are set, and the kids are accused of the shenanigans.  Each time the story comes back to Sam and the story of the Sandman. 

All through the film you are aware that there are aliens involved, come on, you saw the trailer, or you got the hint from the Arthur C Clarke's quote at the beginning of the film, so you know that it's not a ghost but an alien.  Director Stewart works hard for the first 30 - 45 minutes of the film building up realism.  Then you have crazy stuff that happen like birds from different areas converge on the house, in a shocking and different way than Hitchcock's "The Birds.”  You have the family members having seizures and blackouts, when are these folks going to take the initiative and get with the program.  The issue becomes one of belief.  Stewart exposes a shadow figure of his alien just a bit too soon.  However, he shows it only to Lacey.  Sam is an unreliable witness and Lacey, seems to be going off her rocker.  Daniel now becomes somewhat of an antagonist, and and a jerk.  However, there comes a time when your children’s lives are in danger that you break down and ask for help and that’s what they do.

"Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not.  Both are equally terrifying.”  Arthur C. Clarke

J.K. Simmons plays alien conspiracy theorist Edwin Pollard.  He has a website, tons of books, and walls filled with newspaper clippings of missing children.  As usual, the mother asks for help.  Simmons plays Pollard as a man defeated.  A man tired of the questions, the missing kids, and the constant harassment by these beings he calls The Grays.  Not like a character that is out to make a buck, but just there to guide the way, The Barretts are not special.  The Grays chose them for no apparent reasons.  The Grays invade the family's home, they have violated their bodies, and they have a hold on their minds.

Dark Skies - Fear | A Constantly Racing Mind

As episodes of "haunting" continue Joseph Bishara's ("Insidious") score works on the senses as the tension builds.  However, it is not enough.  Director Stewart has an exceptional cast, a decent story, and a great musician who understands horror.  Stewart has all the tropes of the genre at his fingertips.  What he doesn't do, is crank up the horror all the way to eleven. Although there are some genuine creepy, and scary scenes, it build to a climax. The horror is subtle. The film is rated PG-13, and there lies the problem.  If you want to scare people, you don't need blood, you don't need gore, you need The Grays to scare the hell out of you, but they don't.  Like M. Night Shyamalan’s "Signs" Stewart reveals his alien too early, and they are not creepy enough.  "Dark Skies" isn't a bad move, it does build the tension, it has all the makings of good horror film, but it just misses the mark.

Movie Data

Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller 
Year:  2013
Staring: Josh Hamilton, Kerri Russell, Dakota Goyo, Kadan Rockett, J.K. Simmons
Director: Scott Stewart
Producer(s): Jason Blum
Writer: Scott Stewart
Rating: PG-13