Coming from the producer of recent horror sensations Paranormal Activity and Sinister, Scott Stewart’s Dark Skies is a creative and suspenseful supernatural thriller, that, whilst certainly related to the aforementioned titles, as well as the likes of The Blair Witch Project and Insidious, works more as a homage to such films, though standing strong in its own merit.
We delve into the tranquil suburban lives of the Barrett family, where parents Lacy (Keri Russell) and Daniel (Josh Hamilton) just about get by with their two young children Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and Sam (Kadan Rockett). Although struggling financially, on the whole life is somewhat ordinary for the Barrett’s – until a series of strange, unexplainable and disturbing events against this family cause a stir around the neighbourhood. To begin with, it seems an intruder is breaking into their house at night and creating a mess in their kitchen, before events escalate and a flock of birds form a kamikaze assault on their household. Sam proceeds to act oddly, almost as though possessed – something which eventually takes over all four members of this family. Eventually they seek help, tracking down expert Edwin Pollard – who explains that they could be the victims of a supernatural, deadly force.
Considering Dark Skies is about an alien attack on a normal family, Stewart does a fine job in making it all seem plausible and about as realistic as you can achieve with such a surreal narrative. Of course at points it’s illogical and immoderate, but hey, it’s about aliens. However it’s the family’s reaction which is spot on, as they reflect exactly how you would imagine yourself to behave in this situation, putting you in their shoes somewhat, as they refuse to believe that anything supernatural is genuinely occurring.
Stewart also does well to capture the ordinary, mundanity of everyday life in the early stages, which enhances the supernatural conclusion to the piece. We are made to care about this family on a human level first, which is imperative in a film such as this – the audience needs to find them convincing and sympathetic, and we do.
Dark Skies is a suspenseful and tense picture, and one that bears a pensive, slow-burning opening act. Such an approach taken by Stewart is effective, as by not exposing too much early on it allows for the audience to build up this story in our own minds, and as such maximise the effect of the grand finale – a finale that, on the whole, is both powerful and unpredictable, tying up the story succinctly – where so many other horror movies fail.
Meanwhile, the performances are impressive, allowing us the chance to identify and sympathise with the characters. J.K. Simmons stands out in his brief cameo, stealing the show somewhat, mostly for being, well, J.K. Simmons. Nonetheless, the screenplay is certainly questionable in this instance, and although the story itself is intriguing, the dialogue suffers, with a host of predictable and cliched one-liners, frustratingly littered throughout.
That aside, Dark Skies is a good story, well told and one that keeps you on the edge of your seat. As long as you don’t go into this expecting a full on horror flick, you shan’t leave disappointed. In the meantime, as it’s important to take something away from films, in this instance you learn that if you ever go downstairs and find your kitchen in a state, with vegetables all over the floor. It’s not the dog. Get out as quickly as you can.