Dark Skies wants its moviegoers to leave slightly chilled, but, instead we leave feeling cold. As the credit crawl began and the lights dimmed back on, you could feel the waft from everyone’s shoulders shrugging as they huffed out of the theatre. The unenthused reaction isn’t because Dark Skies is a bad movie, but because we don’t like seeing something that had so much potential settle with being “just ok”.
One would think the promotion for Scott Stewart’s thriller has been very mysterious hinting at terrorizing antagonists that are “out-of-this-world”, but in fact the trailers and commercials have shown too much. Sadly, this is one of those films that has shown us all of the tricks up its sleeve within its two-minute trailer to cover up just how much it isn’t a horror movie.
The biggest secret behind Dark Skies could be that it’s actually a family drama with sci-fi elements to it. Think Todd Field’s Little Children mixed with the creepy vibes M. Night Shyamalan displayed in Signs.
Dark Skies plays with the family dynamic to its story quite well for the most part. Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton play an ordinary married couple who are trying to save money when they can by shaving off electricity usage and their two kids (played by Dakota Goyo and Kadan Rockett) are going through the motions with growing up – especially Goyo who may be hanging out with bad influences and flirting with troublemaking.
Everyone is likeable at first except Hamilton. He acts too harshly on the alpha-male tendencies of his role, but soon becomes more recognizable when constant invasions occur in his family’s house.
The scares are small and sparse, but they believably fit within the suburban environment – even if we wonder why other neighbours are oblivious to the bright lights and the odd beings that seem to be trolling around the neighbourhood.
But, Dark Skies seems to be scared of traveling onto a track of originality. There are those moments of realism as this family is brought together slowly by the supernatural, but the scare tactics are those we’ve seen in recent horror cash cows like Insidious and Paranormal Activity. And, what do you know? Dark Skies has been brought to us by a producer who worked on those horrors.
Once characters start mentioning that they need to install cameras in the house, a thick-headed police officer makes appearances, and more “creepy child” tropes are being applied, you almost feel as if the movie is slowly being infiltrated to make Dark Skies into something that resembles “more of the same”. I almost groaned out loud as the family story was being put on hold to allow more static shots of Hamilton staring at a monitor speculating obscure blobs on the screen.
We even get a supernatural expert (played by character actor J.K. Simmons who, here, is reigned in too much) who welcomes himself in during the final stretch of the film. Some of the conspiracy theories he tells Russell and Hamilton are fun and eerie as pieces are slowly put together. It’s here when the film’s sense of humour is peppered into the dialogue leading to scenes where the family are preparing for another invasion – which is also pretty funny for the right reasons.
But, soon enough, the conclusion presents itself and its every bit as anticlimactic as we feared it would be. It’s the most disappointing part because there’s a nice scene before the surprises where the family awaits an unfamiliar fate and they talk about past Fourth of July’s. It’s sweet in a way that isn’t too sappy and isn’t out of place. It’s the tone some people were wanting more of in 2011’s Super 8. However, Super 8 at least had the courage to present a creature with an innovative design, whereas with Dark Skies, we get dull monsters who resemble the kind that probed Eric Cartman on South Park.
Scott Stewart’s thriller is something I want to appreciate fully, but I can’t. I can admire the few strengths it has – because when it’s in the right, it’s very good – but there are too many shortcomings that stop Dark Skies from becoming a true, original, take on science fiction.
It’s so close, yet so far.