Review: 'Dark Skies'
BY MICHAEL SMITH World Scene Writer
Friday, February 22, 2013
I couldn’t help but think that “Dark Skies” is an alien-abduction movie for the fans of “The X-Files” who embraced that flying-saucer poster that Fox Mulder had hung up all those years with the words: “I want to believe.”
I wanted to embrace “Dark Skies” for the manner in which writer-director Scott Stewart builds his story, and deliberately builds his suspense through pacing, despite the number of better films that serve as his inspiration here.
“Poltergeist” and “Paranormal Activity” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” all make recognizable appearances in both story and style.
But I ultimately had to face the fact that “Dark Skies” is all build-up and no payoff.
The worst thing that a filmmaker can do in the science-fiction thriller genre is generate interest in knowing what’s behind all this mystery, and then deliver so little.
The movie won’t make any converts, but those who are already “believers” will lap up what is happening to the Barrett family, like when the little son tells of talking to the “sandman” who comes into his room at night.
Or when both sons have unusual bruise marks on their bodies that look like geometric shapes. Or when family members by turns go goofy and stare up at the sky, causing nosebleeds and seizures, depending on the person.
Clearly this is the work of aliens, I suppose believers will tell you.
But that leaves the rest of us wondering why aliens unload the pantry and stack items in the form of an abstract art project (too “Poltergeist”), or why they mess with the home security video (too “Paranormal Activity”) or make little boys wet their pants.
Producer Jason Blum is a veteran of the “Paranormal Activity” series, those scary, R-rated, but largely bloodless flicks that arrive every October.
He is also the producer of “Insidious” and its upcoming sequel, and “Dark Skies” is more in the manner of that film by scaring up a PG-13 rating to pull in the young teen market, and by making children-in-danger the main fear factor.
There are a couple of smart twists early (watch the family photos) that make an impact because of their personal nature — this family clearly moved to the suburbs because they thought they would be safe here. Don’t we all know that aliens prefer more rural residences?
But there are just too many familiar moments on which the smart fans of these types of movies will call out the filmmakers, saying, “Hey, you got that scare from this movie.” It happens again and again.
Keri Russell (“The Americans”) does yeoman’s work here as the distressed mom, barely keeping it together and freaking out occasionally, and the kids are very good. Newcomer Kadan Rockett makes you want to protect the little guy with the alien “friend,” while Dakota Goyo (“Real Steel”) is very natural as a 13-year-old boy with a budding romance.
But as the father, Josh Hamilton (a live-theater guy who rarely looks comfortable on film) is a wash-out. He has no chemistry with Russell, and his unemployed architect has such an uncomfortable speech pattern and body language that if it weren’t aliens responsible for this family’s issues, you would suspect this strange man. Very odd.
From the terrible title to an ending that feels more inclined to setting up a sequel than providing a satisfying conclusion — I found myself in the theater saying out loud “So that’s all there is to it?” — there just seems to be something missing from “Dark Skies.”
It’s as if someone abducted the creativity and the entertainment value from this film.
Kadan Rockett as Sam Barrett in "Dark Skies." Courtesy/The Weinstein Company