Dark Skies (2013) review

Flay Otters

Dark Skies QuadIn 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.

2.5 / 5 stars     


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      1. Tiago May 30, 2013 at 8:25 pm

        I do agree fire in the sky is great movie, but I don’t think it compares to this one. I think Dark Skies is much closer to the haunted house/family movies, then the Sci-Fy. In fact, the movie leaves things pretty open about the nature of the events, you can’t know what the “Greys”are, the specialist has an opinion, so does the internet, but the movie don’t show what they are, where they come from, or nothing like this.
        I think this is one of the best movies of the year so far.
        Thanks for the review.

      2. Flay Otters (@ckbuttermann) May 30, 2013 at 8:52 pm

        Tiago – that is a great point, I didn’t think to include that (in terms of the greys). That does feel like a better and more fresh way to treat the ‘origin’ of a threat and/or creature and not immediately go into 15 minutes of exposition about it.

        That said, I certainly didn’t hate it and was very engaged during the early/middle bits – I may give this another watch with commentary and/or down the line and see how it feels. Thanks much for the feedback.

      3. Greg May 31, 2013 at 6:37 am

        I enjoyed it while watching, but afterwards probably wouldn’t recommend it. Ending was a little too obvious, but might be good for somebody that doesn’t watch horror movies. have to check out Fire in the Sky next.

      4. Tammi Kidwell Cole June 2, 2013 at 8:06 pm

        Rented this one for the weekend. It had its moments, but overall I thought it was disappointing. There just weren’t any surprises and I get so tired of these types of movies showing such distrust between family members. That being said, I thought J.K. Simmons’ performance was brilliant!

      5. Mark August 7, 2013 at 10:06 am

        Watched this last night and I have to say it was probably the creepiest sci-fi horror I’ve seen for a long time. Other than the terrific scares and shocks it provides I think the scariest thing about this film is the dread that they are after one of your kids and that really brings it home as a parent myself. When the expert (played by the ever brilliant and engaging J.K Simmons) states that the “Greys” come after the first family member it takes an interest in it sent shivers as we all knew that it was one of the kids and as a parent it puts you that position where whilst it scares the hell out of you, you have that overwhelming but natural urge to protect your kids.

        Also I have to praise the “lack” of CGI that was used, less is more as they say and it makes things all the more creepy. In particular when Keri Russell’s character crept down the corridor and then you seen the dark figure of the “Grey” that really made the hair on my arms stand on end.

        8 1/2 out of ten for me

        • Flay Otters August 7, 2013 at 12:06 pm

          Mark, thank you for your insightful comments and input. Much appreciated. I can definitely relate, being a parent myself. You’re right that in those sequences the effect of putting yourself in their shoes, for a parent, are totally unnerving. I too really liked the minimal use of CGI because it allows you to focus on what’s happening versus something that looks real or fake. After I initially saw it, I went back and watched Fire In the Sky and the 4th Kind before watching it again and I still feel like the 3rd act stuff took away from the tension earlier on. That said, it was well done on many fronts and worth seeing, if only for the scenes of things happening with objects in the kitchen and the individual ‘attacks’ as they are both strong points. Again, thank you for your comments.