Cameron's Review of Dark Skies
In this liberal society, I'm surprised that there aren't more people complaining about how this film is about some threatening figures breaking into a family's home and being identified, even by the title, as "Dark Skins". Oh no, wait, these aren't black people, these are just aliens, which is still kind of messed up, because even though they're breaking the law by getting in here in the first place, illegal Mexican immigrants don't go around breaking into people's homes. Man, I'm just working my way towards offending most everyone in this liberal society, though it's not like you people are that much better, because - speaking of misconceptions - plenty of you figured that this alien horror film was about ghosts or something, based on the fact that it's about a family being terrorized by mysterious creatures. So, what, are you saying that every haunted house film these days has to involve ghosts, you dirty scarcists? I don't know about y'all, but I was kind of expecting it to be fallen angels or something, because as Scott Stewart has taught us with something like "Legion" or "Priest", it's hard to even fully trust religious figures. Well, apparently it's even harder for Stewart to make a decent religious thriller, at least according to the other critics, so the man's just going to go ahead and get more traditionalist with his sci-fi thrillers, just to see if the response will be better. Well, I'd say Stewart has succeeded to some extent, because this is indeed getting better word-of-mouth than "Legion" and "Priest", and yet, this sci-fi thriller still isn't as thrilling as it could have been, and for several reasons.
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