In any average cookie cutter pleasantville suburb, where the only catty problems that seem to be a concern are whose kid is in rehab again and how everyone must maintain a perfect facade even when things may not. Underneath this plastic exterior with rows of large elm trees and perfectly manicured lawns there is something lurking and waiting to pounce. In Dark Skies (2013) the perfect looking Barret family has their world shaken when they realize that they are not alone and the strange series events happening around them is only the beginning. They have been chosen by an unforeseen force. What they soon realize is that they are not the first.
Upon viewing the trailer of the film, I was worried about the execution. It seemed to be another one of the Hollywood films that try to use scare tactics for the average audience, making it an average film. Although not created by the master of strange, M. Night Shyamalan, who has let me down countless times. It felt like it was going to be a mishmash of the Happening (2008) and Signs (2002). However, what it turned out to be is more of a marriage between Poltergeist (1982) and Paranormal Activity (2007). Infact the only thing Dark Skies was missing was the iconic tagline “they’re here..” and the film could easily have been a prequel.
The film is not groundbreaking or brilliant, as it is not overly ambitious. Keri Russel was a questionable choice for the lead female role, as a mother that is fairly bland and stonewalled. This is her second recent role in a horror film and I have doubts that she is able to win over an audience as a victim. Much like Josh Hamilton who plays Russel’s husband, the two deliver washed down performances that come across more annoying than sympathetic. That being said, the real stars of the film are their actors who play the family’s children. They are effective at delivering roles of scared, possessed children. The older of the two boys, played by Dakota Goyo, is the true hero of the film and wins us over by being a character with depth and heart. J.K. Simmons makes a cameo as a survivor and expert on these events, and as always is entertaining.
While there are plot holes, questionable performances and strange lines, Dark Skies is a fairly entertaining film, so long as you let the faux pas go. Without the use of gore or violence, there are a number of chilling scenes that make you cringe. I found myself biting my nails a number of times. I am always impressed with any filmmaker who can execute scare tactics without the use CGI and blood spatter. Most recently Insidious (2010) successfully demonstrated that the use of psychological fear can be an effective delivery method to scare an audience. Dark Skies is not quite so successful, but it is a far cry from being a M. Night Shyamlan flop. It is a fun film for an average audience who wants a few goosebumps but can still sleep at night after the popcorn is empty.