Dark Skies Reviews
While at first it feels like a "made-for-TV" movie, the performances start growing on you and as you finally get an idea of what is really going on, you're hooked. Compared to Director Scott Stewart's previous outings, "Legion" and "Priest," this is the best of the bunch, and frankly, the best of the most recent suburban, lamely titled fright-flicks (like "Possession").
When I first saw the trailer for "Dark Skies" I thought it looked interesting, but would end up being a bad movie. While it's not a great movie, it certainly isn't bad either. Keri Russell stars as your average married mother of 2, when Aliens start to do weird, harmful things to her family. First,it's little pranks that don't do any damage, but just mess with their heads. Then 3 different flocks of birds fly into her homes, and soon each member of the family gets their heads messed with in some very inventive ways. There are some very good suspenseful scenes in this, and it's perfect for a watch at home at night. But, towards the end the movie has some big plot holes(like what they're told to do to fight the aliens, makes no sense). Overall it's a lot better than I was expecting. Horror fans, or fans of aliens movies should give it a shot. I'm sure there are a lot of people that won't like it, but if you go with it, it's not too bad. Could have been a lot worse.
It's often said that horror movies subconsciously reflect the mood of the time they were released. During the thirties, movies like 'Dracula' and 'The Mummy' reflected America's fear of the mass immigration the country was experiencing. The shooting of Duane Jones in 'Night of the Living Dead' echoed that of Martin Luther King. When rednecks were killing out-of-their-depth city dwellers in 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' and 'Deliverance', who couldn't think of Vietnam? 'Dark Skies' makes a conscious effort to reflect the global financial crisis but it does so in an exceptionally ham-fisted manner. For the movie's first half, we're constantly told how the family are struggling yet we see no real evidence of this. Lots of money appears to be spent on installing CCTV cameras and alarm systems. Lacy seems to hold down a real estate job despite showing no evidence that she possesses any sales ability.
The story is told by the numbers but, if you can stay awake and pay attention, you'll see the numbers don't add up. Writer-director Stewart seems to be working from a first draft script which nobody else bothered to read. Had they taken the time to check, they would have found a host of inconsistencies. We learn early on that the aliens can move through walls yet, in the film's climax, the family make a huge deal of boarding up their windows. The oldest son, Jessie (Goyo), is 14 at the start of the film but regresses to 13 at the film's end. In the aftermath of the bird attack, a clean-up crew are kitted out in HazMat suits yet they allow a pair of teenage boys to run around the closed off scene picking up birds with their bare hands. You're left wondering who is dumber; the film's creator or the film's characters?
In one scene, Lacy blacks out, losing the previous six hours. After watching 'Dark Skies', you'll wish you could lose the previous two.
It managed to build up some reasonable level of spookiness, and the suspense was just enough for decent entertainment. The ending and the last part were pure disappointment and after seeing it I could not understand the purpose of making the movie in the first place: was it to inform me, change my perception on the given subject or entertain me!? Didn't do any of those things fully and to the satisfactory level! I still decided to give it a positive review... just... because I could not put it in the category of bad movies.
Like I said, even though the antagonists are aliens, this is pretty much a haunted house film, and therefore technically a character study, yet the film is still seriously underdeveloped, providing only so much insight into the driving characters as anything more than types, as well as mere mediums for the thrills that should be complimented by the dramatic weight of its characters, who are too undercooked to be all that compelling, at least on paper. In the final product, the performances endear enough to keep the characters and, by extension, the narrative pumping, but there's still something distancing about the limited characterization, or at least seems to be behind atmospheric cold spells, for although director Scott Stewart doesn't kick on the atmosphere too much, when he does, it's not long before he runs out of tense material to meditate on, resulting in some serious dry spells that bland things up, while stiffening pacing enough for you to really sink your teeth into pacing problems within the overall structure of the plot. As much as I complain about how the film doesn't spend a whole lot of time fleshing out its characters, it sure does make time for fat around the edges, not unlike other "haunted house" flicks, going dragged out by excess material and filler that build and build on tension until, before too long, you lose grip on the tension, perhaps even focus. The film gets to be pretty aimless, and such pacing problems, combined with characterization problems, distance resonance, obviously not to where the film is rendered completely disengaging, but decidedly to where the film feels like it drags, and down a familiar path no less. The film is backed by unique subject matter, but it often betrays its potential uniqueness with a generic interpretation that bombards you with trope after trope, until the narrative which is built on ambiguities collapses into predictability, while laziness goes reflected, which is pretty ironic, considering that many of the film's problems come from overambition. Cheap scares and other subtlety issues are perhaps the clearest reflections of Scott Stewart's overwhelming desire to impress, but it's rarely difficult to see that this film wants to go further than it can, and that makes the pacing, resonance and originality problems all the clearer, until the final product collapses, almost to the brink of mediocrity. Well, that brink is not quite crossed in the end, because no matter how flawed the overambitious project may be, it keeps your investment going, or at least your aesthetic investment.
Perhaps best known for his work on television, David Boyd isn't too outstanding with his cinematographic efforts, but when he hits, he really delivers, cleverly playing with bleak lighting in a fashion that closes you in on the environment which drives much of the heart of this thriller, and therefore helps in capturing a sense of claustrophobia. As you can imagine, much of this very commercial film is superficial, even when it comes to aesthetics, so style is limited, but what style there is is pretty effective in selling this subject matter, though not without the help of highlights in Scott Stewart's directorial performance. Stewart's script is perhaps the film's most problematic aspect, and Stewart's directorial interpretation of it also has its problems, or at least a touch too much ambition, which, to be fair, has more than a few moments in which it becomes honest-to-goodness, inspiration, highlighted by moments in which atmospheric storytelling draws much in the way of tension, compelling, chilling and all around doing right by a story concept that deserves to be well-handled, even more so than it already is. Stewart's storytelling is formulaic to the point of diluting a sense of uniqueness, but quite frankly, if you step back and meditate upon it, there really is something pretty refreshing about this sci-fi thriller in concept, and that, alone, establishes some sense of intrigue, built upon by juicy ambiguities and some sharp dramatic layers. Now, note that the solid compliments that I just bestowed upon this film are primarily aimed at the fairly intelligent idea behind this story, which is ultimately told in a manner that is sloppy, but not to where you can completely ignore potential, which is most reflected by the aforementioned highlights within Stewart's directorial performance, as well as certain other performances. Where the story is more well-handled on paper than it is in its interpretation, the characters are interpreted more sharply than they are drawn, because no matter how undercooked formulaic characterization is in a lot of ways, the performances bring the characters to life, and even carry the film, with leads Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton and, to a lesser extent, Dakota Goyo being particularly effective with human dramatic layers that are perhaps more than this film deserves. The performances aren't stellar, but they're stronger than expected, ultimately proving to be about as endearing as any aspect in this faulty thriller, whose inspiration extends beyond acting enough to engage as decent, regardless of plenty of problems.
Once the skies have cleared, you're left with a thriller that is too underdeveloped, atmospherically dry, aimlessly draggy, formulaic and overambitious to engage as all that memorable, yet handsome and clever cinematography, generally effective direction behind an intriguing story concept, and strong lead performances make Scott Stewart's "Dark Skies" a decent sci-fi/haunted house thriller, even if it offers only so much worth praising, let along remembering.
2.5/5 - Fair
The story in Dark Skies revolves around a suburban couple, who encounter an increasingly bizarre array of events, aimed at their family. They begin to question their sanity, and eventually arrive at the conclusion that it's alien forces at play. This makes for an interesting, if not somewhat familiar premise. The family feels well realized, and the performances by both Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton offer some promise. The film starts with a restrained approach to the subject matter, and then gradually gets in to the horror elements.
The problem, however, is that the buildup is too slow and never substantial enough for its last act. In the third act, things spin out of control, as none of the events feel earned. In this way, Dark Skies can be thought of as a muddled film. There's long stretches when nothing of note happens and, when it does, it never has the weight one would think it should have. The film is not exactly boring, but not scary. It's interesting, but not sufficiently intriguing for just a straight science fiction exercise. There's a lot to like, such as the individual moments involving the bird deaths or the kitchen scene, but they are never as tied together as one would like. This is the greatest fault of the movie, never sufficiently delivering on one particular category, be it scares, drama, or straight intrigue.
An overall misfire, but with some good elements.