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Dark Skies

2013 | 97 min | PG-13 | 2.39:1

Dark Skies


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Theatrical release date

 22 February, 2013
 05 April, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

Box office




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Dark Skies Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, February 22, 2013

Scott Stewart is a former visual effects artist who’s directed two major features: 2009’s angel revolt picture “Legion,” and the 2011 sci-fi actioner “Priest.” With that type of gloomy filmography, the prospect of spending more time with Stewart’s blurred cinematic vision is less than appetizing. To write that “Dark Skies” is his best effort to date is a tad misleading but undeniably true. It’s not a profound movie, but technically competent, while huffing Spielberg fumes in a big bad way to pay tribute to the man who made the ultimate alien invasion event. “Dark Skies” contains promise in its earliest moments that suggest Stewart has finally broken out of his carbonite brick of mediocrity and found material that benefits from his nondescript touch. However, it all eventually falls apart. Although, compared to “Legion” and “Priest,” it’s more of a gradual comedown instead of a free fall without a working parachute.

In the crumbling comfort of the suburbs during Fourth of July week, the Barrett Family is experiencing a series of abnormal occurrences. With Daniel (Josh Hamilton), wife Lacy (Keri Russell), and sons Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and Sam (Kadan Rockett) all trying to maintain their routine, an unseen force is disrupting their evenings, revealing symbols in stacked appliances and body markings. Hoping to pinpoint the source of this madness on an Earthly force, the parents soon realize that the menace may be extraterrestrial in origin. Seeking out an online expert (J.K. Simmons) for answers, Daniel and Lacy hope to catch a glimpse of the alien invasion occurring in their own home. However, “The Grays” are far too intelligent and technically advanced, toying with the Barretts before they reveal their ultimate intention for the family.

“Dark Skies” is shamelessly derivative, but it does get off on the right foot, aping the initial mystery of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (albeit “Close Encounters” with a head injury) with spooky, unexplained visitations upsetting the family’s domestic peace. Somehow, something is entering the locked house at night, with the youngest, Sam, communicating his visions of slender beings in his room while his parents fail to listen to the signs. This initial security enigma is followed-up with physical events, with Lacy losing hours of the day, returning to consciousness with cuts and bruises, while Daniel wakes up in the middle of his yard, bleeding profusely from his nose. There’s an escalation of spooky events that keeps “Dark Skies” absorbing, with additional pressure applied by flocks of suicidal birds swarming the house and unknown brandings on Jesse’s body. For the first hour, it actually feels as though Stewart is building to something impressively epic with these bizarre reveals, keeping answers minimal but clues engrossing.

Also aiding the beguiling “Dark Skies” mood is a thick sense of character, with most of the feature glued to Lacy and Daniel as they try to deduce the source of the antagonism. The script allows the twosome time to act as a married couple, communicating their frustrations with extended dialogue passages, while Russell and Hamilton enjoy believable chemistry as a stressed duo hoping to protect their property, only to realize that the problem is way out of their league. Stewart shows patience with the human characters, also inspecting Jesse’s teenage growing pains as he deals with his first love and a toxic friendship with an older boy. The material isn’t remarkable, but for a genre picture with limited goals, it’s a break from the norm, allowing a feel for problem solving that isn’t always stridently argumentative.

Instead of shuffling along toward wonder, “Dark Skies” eventually contorts into a horror show in the vein of M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs,” only with a much smaller budget. Unfortunately, the movie is too static to wind itself up into a proper scare machine, while Stewart relies on sonic jolts to quicken pulses -- unequivocal proof of genre hackery. There’s also a strange lack of tension as the effort spirals toward a conclusion, with Simmons's expositional role devoid of suspense, acting only as textbook pages to setup the finale. “Dark Skies” eventually makes up its mind to creep out the room (complete with “Paranormal Activity” style security camera surveillance sequences), only to fall short of its ambition by dragging out its simple story in an effort to drum up atmosphere. The shift toward nightmare fuel is unnecessary, with real storytelling bravery contained within the aliens-as-scientists angle, not as monsters creeping around in the dark.

“Dark Skies” eventually settles on a ridiculous, borderline insulting ending -- a dopey cliffhanger conclusion created solely to fuel future sequels. It’s a lousy way to reward an audience that’s been perfectly patient with the insistently uninteresting developments of the picture. Instead of a slow build, “Dark Skies” is more of a slow leak.

Starring: Keri Russell, Dakota Goyo, Josh Hamilton, Annie Thurman, J.K. Simmons, Trevor St. John
Director: Scott Charles Stewart

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Dark Skies, Forum Discussions

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Dark Skies Official Trailer 2 23 Feb 22, 2013
Dark Skies-Series Discussion 0 Jan 16, 2011

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