Family nightmare of interstellar proportions
A solid surprise
Over time, alien visitation or abduction movies see to come out of the blue, so to speak. Sure, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) and ET – THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982), may have collected the oohs and ahhs of audiences worldwide, but I’ll take XTRO (1983), ALTERED (2006), and even COMMUNION (1989) any day for the real horror splendor of it all. Sorry, we’re not dealing with alien invasion here, just those small party visits to keep things intimate and personal, and uncanny.
DARK SKIES (2013) is the latest horror/sci-fi that forces us once again to acknowledge that our homes are not sanctuaries, and when it comes to the Universe, we may only be a big fish in a very small pond if not a puddle. Hit-or-miss writer/director, Scott Stewart got it right this time with a surefire winner for those who like that extra chill with their sci-fi.
The tractor beam is set upon the Barrett family, who collectively mirror the average struggling American family. Lacey (Keri Russell) and husband Daniel (Josh Hamilton), have two young boys (Dakota Goyo and Kadan Rockett), and a façade of a happy home. Jesse’s (Goyo) starting to spread his tween wings, Sammy’s (Rockett) an inquisitive little kid, Daniel’s desperate for work and lovemaking after a layoff (and butts heads with Jesse quite often), and Lacey’s the mom trying to keep the ship afloat as she hopes real estate will fill the family bank account. But when strange things start to happen in the homestead, think POLTERGEIST (1982) here, the family must accept the highly improbable, and stick together to keep world traveling wolves at bay.
Granted, the foundation for the tale isn’t that different from many we’ve seen in the past, but Stewart’s excellent dialogue brings a breath of authenticity that many movies of this ilk lack. With that comes some wonderful character development, and very relatable story lines and subplots. Together, Russell and Hamilton become one phenomenal team with believable chemistry, and push-and-pull Goyo may as well be their offspring. That threesome carries the film, though Russel and Hamilton truly delivered on a grand scale by nailing just about every emotion known to humankind.
To enhance the ominous feel and element of foreboding, even in the daylight, David Boyd’s exceptional cinematography delivers the atmosphere. Then again, most science fiction and horror fans have seen his work on “The Walking Dead” and “Firefly”, among others. His shots are crisp and definitive, and even in the darkness, no detail is lost on the viewer – and Boyd accomplishes this without presenting a sterile look.
DARK SKIES brings the suspense early, and keeps the tension brewing throughout – whether something strange is afoot, or even in a simple family bout. What Stewart captures is that horrific feeling that we can’t control a damn thing in our lives. The Barretts are screwed with finances, the mortgage, and any bill in general – much like many in America, and around the globe. Then their one son hangs out with a questionable character, the other needs hand holding, and when things go off the rails, even a little bit, the Barrett’s friends and neighbors are gone, and the family becomes their own island in judgmental suburbia. Lacey and Daniel must now fight on their own – and the only fight they have left is the equivalent of a suicide mission.
Yet seeing the Barrett’s world shrink until they are but a lonely speck ripe for the picking, really amped up the scares and suspense. DARK SKIES truly became more claustrophobic as time marched on as Freud’s “uncanny” continued to come right at them. We not only witness a family struggling against far more intelligent dark sources, but working overtime to keep their minds sharp in a world that shut them out.
For a PG-13 rating, I wasn’t expecting much, but Stewart delivered a solid and impressive tale. If more PG-13 horrors are as well crafted as DARK SKIES, many won’t cringe about the rating. The only other PG-13 horror to have any weight and merit is the exhilarating THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) – and we’ll have to wait and see if WORLD WAR Z (USA/Malta, 2013) doesn’t fall short.
This is definitely worth a rental, and conversation afterwards. Admittedly, I didn’t care for the completely non-sensical idea of branding in the film (you’ll see), but that wasn’t nearly enough to bring the house down.
With Stuart’s successful “Defiance” pilot, and this feature, those bad days may just be behind him. I doubt we’ll see another LEGION (2010) from him, and look forward to his next venture.
3.5 out of 5 stars
(Photo from Imp Awards)