Dark Skies Review
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It is perhaps one of the oldest and deepest ingrained fears in the human psyche to be a parent of a child afflicted with an unsolvable problem. That basic premise has provided the grist for many horror films—some classics, many completely forgettable. Dark Skies puts an extraterrestrial spin on the idea, but it never manages to achieve the tension or outright horror of the best of its predecessors.

The story focuses on suburban parents Daniel (Josh Hamilton) and Lacey (Keri Russell) and their sons, Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and Sam (Kadan Rockett). Aside from some financial issues, their family seems pretty solid—at least until the requisite strange things begin to happen, centered around Sam. As the unexplainable events intensify, they begin to realize that their son may be the target of otherworldly forces.

  
 
It’s familiar ground—perhaps most famously trod in the 1982 film Poltergeist. While it exchanges angry spirits for angry aliens, Dark Skies hits many of the same beats. We’re introduced to a seemingly normal family and watch as they grapple with an increasingly insane situation while trying to protect their children from harm. Unfortunately, this latest version of the old story can’t hit the same highs in narrative or shock value, hobbling its effectiveness as a piece of horror cinema.

Part of the problem is that it tries to play the plot as a slow burn, using small touches rather than big, shocking moments or overwhelming visual stimuli. That approach can work if the characters are interesting enough to carry the weight of the narrative, but Daniel and Lacey are such a generic suburban couple and the kids so underdeveloped that they don’t necessarily register as sympathetic persons in distress. Both Hamilton and Russell do what they can with their roles, but neither is given all that much to work with.

Dark Skies also tries to ignore the fact that we’ve seen this plot before. By the time J.K. Simmons shows up as an extraterrestrial expert to explain what’s going on, it’s too little, too late. We’ve already sat through the unbelieving husband, the frantic wife, the confused children, the suspicious neighbors, and plenty of unsurprising plot developments. There’s quite simply nothing here that we haven’t seen before and seen done better.

Both Poltergeist and the more recent Insidious played a similar game, but both were able to overcome any narrative drag in the beginning with a full-on crazy third act. Dark Skies tries to set up a final showdown between the family and the aliens as well as a climactic twist, but both feel underdeveloped and ultimately underwhelming. Not only do we never get a sense of what the aliens want, but we don’t even really get a sense of why we should care.

Dark Skies tries to plumb a basic human fear for cinematic thrills, but it simply can’t hold our attention long enough to invest in it. There are a few genuinely creepy moments but none that will stick with you. In the end, the film seems as vaguely defined as its alien threat—and it’s only a shadow of the work it intends to emulate.


Blu-ray Review:
This edition includes Blu-ray and DVD versions of the film, along with a download code for a digital copy. It also offers a handful of deleted and alternate scenes with optional commentary. There’s a feature commentary with the writer/director, a couple producers, and the editor. Commentaries like this can be an enlightening look into the low-budget filmmaking process, but I’m not sure that many people will really be willing to sit through the film a second time to check it out.

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