I really wasn't expecting much when I sat down to watch the new horror/sci-fi film...Dark Skies. I was seriously just there to kill time. Nothing more. Grant it...we write about horror here at Film Deviant...but, we've also been burned many times over by the likes of PG-13 horror films of this ilk so, I was preparing my razor-sharp verbal arsenal for tearing apart this flm. However...I was pleasantly surprised.
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Dark Skies is the new film by the director of Legion and Priest. Two films that don't quite scream horror masterpiece. However, Scott Stewart seems to be progressing very nicely with each film he makes. Building on mistakes from previous efforts and creating something more entertaining with every film. Here, Stewart goes for more of a subtle approach...only revealing the film's creatures in glimpses and out of focus backgrounds until the third act. He also uses the tension in the film to his advantage...mining genuine scares from the build up, rather than cheap unearned thrills.
The film opens in modern day suburbia...which is kind of scary all its own. Shots of people doing every day things like barbecuing, skateboarding, walking dogs, jogging, et al...feel eerie and morose with the opening soundtrack. As if to set the entire picture up with a snapshot of our own suburban captivities and settle its audience into a relatable environment. We are then introduced to the Barrett family who are struggling to keep up with the ever increasing costs of living in a seemingly perfect home.
Daniel, played by Alive's Josh Hamilton, is a husband/father trying to keep it all together and Felicity's Keri Russell plays Lacy...a mother/wife trying to do the same. Both of their sons are a nice combination of post-toddler and new-teen. Newcomer Kadan Rockett plays the younger of the two, Sam, with a cute innocence and Dakota Goyo (whom you might remember as the cocky kid from Real Steel) plays the older Jesse with a fresh rebellion trying to find his place.
Both Lacy and Daniel are feeling the effects of the economy in their chosen professions. Lacy is a Real Estate agent who is too honest for her own good and Daniel is an unassuming architect seeking new employment. Unfortunately for the family, they soon find out that the job market isn't the only thing to fear.
Films like last year's Worst Film candidates The Apparition and Chernobyl Diaries usually give PG-13 horror a bad name. However, when a film is this well thought out and it presents mysterious elements that have been established in other films in an original premise, it really makes for an entertaining experience. It finds just the right amount of scary imagery and WTF atmosphere and delivers the scares in a much more genuine manner.
For the hardcore horror/sci-fi fans out there, the gore is pretty much kept to nose bleeds and wayward birds and the hot nudity is relegated to Keri's penchant for tank top pokies...so, you guys might be a little disappointed that there's nothing really Deviant going on here. But, that's not to say it is a bad film by any stretch. It is an effective thriller that builds on familiar science fiction tropes and creates an enjoyable movie-going experience that will leave you wondering who your kids are talking to in the darkness of their bedrooms. And once you get to the film's satisfying (tho a tad predictable) climax, you're not cheated or annoyed.
Perhaps my biggest gripe is the PG-13 rating. The film could have taken bigger chances, especially once the morality questions came into play. In my head, I envisioned a much darker film with ambiguous tones of scrupulous malevolence with Daniel and Lacy and how they deal with what is going on around them. I pictured Daniel full on losing his marbles while trying to cope with accusations of child abuse and financial turmoil. I think it would've created a significantly deeper film. Ultimately, the film teases with all too brief moments of moral struggles...especially when Jesse hangs out with his dickheaded friend "Rat" and never becomes the meaningful lasting impression it could have been.
Still...Dark Skies is a cute little sci-fi thriller best served as a bargain matinee on a rainy Sunday. Solid performances and restrained filmmaking make for an entertaining experience. Also...J.K. Simmons is always awesome when he's not doing Farmer's Insurance commercials.
If Keri asked me to believe in body-snatching aliens...I totally would.
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