Scott Stewart (Legion, Priest) wrote and directed Dark Skies, a 2013 horror-sci-fi film about a family in crisis as their home, and their lives, are thrown into turmoil by bizarre events occurring. Using mounting tension, jump scares and horror-style visuals, it is a sci-fi film with a bit of a difference in that it feels more like a haunted house horror film, in tone, for its duration.
Lacy (Keri Russell) and Daniel Barrett (Josh Hamilton), along with their two sons Sam (Kadan Rockett) and Jesse (Dakota Goyo), live what appears to be a fairly normal suburban life. Lacy works in real estate sales and Daniel is in-between jobs and trying to find a new job in order to help support the household. Jesse is a teenager who is beginning to experience the things that the onset of puberty brings, hanging out with people older than him and developing a crush on the daughter of his Mom’s best friend. Sam is a young boy who appears to be a normal kid enjoying his childhood, until the strange things begin to happen to him, and his family. Lacy wakes in the middle of the night and finds food strewn across the kitchen floor and the back door open, thinking, to begin with, that an animal of some kind had found its way into the fridge. The night after she awakes and finds that appliances and food are stacked high all around her kitchen (see the chair-scene in Poltergeist) and she begins to think that someone it breaking in to their home. When the police don’t believe that anyone broke in, and the occurrences continue, Lacy and Daniel install security cameras around the house in order to try to capture the perpetrator on film.
The events begin to escalate. Flocks of birds fly into the house, smashing windows and dying on impact. Lacy loses hours of her day after blacking out while at work, showing a house to potential clients. Sam is found with bruises all over his body and he keeps staring into space like he is in a state of hypnosis. Jesse blacks out when with a friend in the woods, and Daniel experiences much the same thing. These events, and others, cause Lacy to look online for other instances and finds that other-worldly tales are the most similar to the experiences that they are going through. Initially, Daniel refuses to believe that alien life-forms are responsible, sceptically writing it off as a human happening. When things go from bad to worse and they seek help from someone who knows about supernatural incidences named Edwin (J.K Simmons) he is forced to believe her, and Lacy and Daniel arm themselves and their home in an attempt to protect themselves and their children.
The story is a fairly simple one, and there are very few side characters that are given time, allowing the film to give focus to the family for the length of the movie. Aside from friends of Lacy and Daniel, a teenage boy who hangs around with Jesse, and a couple of others such as police officers or investigators, Dark Skies puts the camera on the four people dealing with the situation, and allows us to keep an eye on the goings-on. The tension is a strong point here, building up and hovering above like a cloud of potential darkness. It has a good atmosphere, and the performances from all involved are good. Russell, as Lacy, a mother who is desperately seeking answers to what is happening to her family, and clawing and scratching to find a way to stop it, is a strong lead and one I enjoyed watching. It’s not the most original story, not at all, and some of the scenes involving slamming doors and long shots of sleeping people, reminded me of Paranormal Activity and those like it, causing them to feel a little tedious. I also felt like some of the scenes that should have been standout moments had been done elsewhere, and to more effect (like the aforementioned Poltergeist stacking scene). There are some original ideas here though, such as the scenes in which the blackouts are handled, and the bird scene. Sure, the bird scene isn’t necessarily original, but the reason it was done, and the way it was shot, felt fresh and it was a standout moment.
I had fun with this, and I didn’t expect to. It is one of those films that I have heard many poor things about, and upon watching it I’m not quite sure why. It isn’t a ground-breaking piece of cinema, and it isn’t a horrifying scary movie, but it is entertaining, and the performances from the cast never felt bad or cringe-worthy to me. The director’s previous work, Legion and Priest, were, in my view, style over substance and hollow films that did nothing for me, but Dark Skies was an entertaining sci-fi that managed, quite well, to throw some horror elements into the mix. While my positivity towards the film possibly stems from my surprising enjoyment of it rather than it being a great movie, it is still worth a watch if you like alien flicks, and enjoy modern horror. Is it perfect? Far from it. I probably won’t watch it again, and if I do it will be a long time until I do, but for what it was, it kept me interested for an hour and a half, and that’s more than I can say for Paranormal Activity and its sequels.
Dark Skies is available to watch, now, on Netflix (UK)