In the rush around earlier this year, I managed to miss Dark Skies in the theatre so I was pleasantly surprised to see it had a DVD/Blu-Ray release so quickly after its run, especially considering it was distributed by Dimension. The wait times from majors/mid-majors seem to be getting shorter and shorter but it still was nice to see it turn so quickly.
That said, Dark Skies is a mixed bag of pretty well-worn genre’ setups, some original ideas and a minimalist use of CGI (points for that) that adds up to a decent but not all together great film. It is not terrible by any means, but, could’ve been much served better by focusing on the more original aspects of its story versus the very obvious ones.
The film stars Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton as Lacy and Daniel Barrett, a typcial suburban couple with two sons (Dakota Goyo as the pre-teen Jesse and Kadan Rockett as the younger Sam) trying to make their version of the American dream work. She works in real estate and he is an out of work designer/architect and the stresses of standard upper-middle class life are starting to creep in. We see this at various points in the form of overdue mortgage notices, tense money conversations between the couple and a painful job interview for Daniel early in the film that clearly doesn’t go well. Against the backdrop of a lovely home and a nice neighborhood, the pressure of their situation is quite real and relatable. I certainly felt the reality of their situation and further, believed them as a family.
The family begins to experience some strange goings on in the form of what seems like break-ins and/or kids messing with them. These disturbances grow in severity however and become very creepy very quickly. This is one of the stronger portions of the film for me actually, I was completely able to project myself into the situation and the fear and anger of being screwed with and/or violated in one’s own home.
This escalates rapidly and takes the threat directly to each member of the family in and outside the home. An incident with Sam in the park, a startling scene with Lacy and a bunch of birds and a truly scary sequence involving Sam being ‘transported’ outside the house late at night build the feeling of fear and confusion. Again, this portion of the film is the strongest and plays against fears of what you think might be going on and the visible toll these things are taking on each member of the family. A disturbing scene with Lacy while showing a home for sale really drives this home.
At this stage, we get into the most common themes and events that occur in various home invasion/haunting/alien type of things where one person is trying to convince a spouse, friends or whomever that something supernatural is going on. The conversations and frustrations surrounding this type of thing are expected and uninteresting. There is only so many times you can see someone discover data about a house’s history or previous events or whatever else before it becomes as common as tying one’s shoes. Plus, the piecing together of said facts seems a little rushed and a little too convenient to be plausible. I use the Internet all the damned time and I couldn’tve worked it together anywhere close to as fast as is done in this film. This leads to the inevitable shaman/expert type of scene where the family must seek out an expert to try to put it all together.
I don’t want to dog this part so much because the role is played by the ever-great J.K. Simmons, but, it feels entirely too easily earned and expected. Plus, his character all but disappears soon afterward (which makes sense once you learn about his past) but still felt more like a convenient vehicle and less like an actual person in this world. This leads way to things breaking down completely, with this husband and wife coming basically unglued all the while neighbors suspecting the family might be abusing the boys and the incidents with the ‘greys’ (as the invaders are called) reaching a quasi-harrowing conclusion.
I say quasi-harrowing because the Simmons character pretty much lays out how the final act of the film will go. The particulars are not (what happens to whom, ultimately), however, which was nice to see but it still felt like I was holding a plot outline in my lap through the final march to the end of the film. This robs the final part of the film of much-needed tension and dread and unfortunately deflates some of what would make the final sequence land harder with the viewer. I’d recommend if you want to watch it, snag it but then also watch Fire In The Sky soon after, bookending one with an older (and better) film.
Final note – the transfer on Blu-ray is awfully nice to look at and doesn’t expose FX issues at all – very well handled on the technical front.