Friday, February 22, 2013

Dark Skies (Scott Stewart, 2013)

The home invasion thriller, the possession film, the haunted house genre, and alien abductions make up the mix of what Dark Skies is attempting to be. Starring Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo, Kadan Rockett, with J.K. Simmons in a supporting role, it centers around a family experiencing strange phenomenon that turns out to be alien activity. All of this is highlighted in the trailer, so it's not giving anything at all away to describe that much here. Scott Stewart, whose previous directing credits include Legion and Priest, has written a script with a much more condensed cast and a much less epic variety of story here.

Walking into the theater and sitting through the film, I had no idea that Scott Stewart was the director. Had I known that, and had I known that his other directing credits were Legion and Priest, I might have been more well prepared for exactly what Dark Skies is. If you've seen those two films or even one of those, it won't come as a shock to you that Dark Skies ends up being supremely silly. There are a few decent ideas, and one or two good jump scares, but overall, it just comes off as laughably silly. As if that point needed to be driven home, in the moments that most definitely should have been more creepy or frightening, most of the audience in my theater was laughing. It wasn't a nervous laughter either.

The problems with the film begin with the script. Some of the dialog in the film is just hollow and wooden. There isn't an unexpected line in the script either. Every line is predictable. Somehow, even with both of those things being true, maybe because both of those things are true, the family dynamic in the film suffers, and it's a major aspect of the story. Without it, the threat they face as the film continues never has the necessary weight, and because of the fantastic nature of any alien story, it all comes across as silly and insubstantial.

Then, there's a performance issue. Keri Russell and J.K. Simmons do their best to keep it from sinking into it's own ridiculousness, but they can't succeed on their own and the rest of the cast does nothing to contribute to that endeavor. Maybe it can be blamed on directing or editing choices but Josh Hamilton, playing the husband to Keri Russell's wife, is having some serious trouble with believability throughout the film. Dakota Goyo does an efficient job playing the eldest son, but Kadan Rockett as the younger of the two children, also leaves a lot to desire. If this were a film about a son inheriting his fathers bad performance, it might work, but that's not what the film is about. The failure of those two performances hinders the audiences ability to honestly buy into the family dynamic, and hurts the film at least as much as the problems with the script itself. They may not have had much to work with, but the minute Keri Russell and J.K. Simmons share the screen and start acting together, the rest of the performance problems become crystal clear. Without the sense of threat being present, it's impossible not to notice the inherent sillier things that go along with any story dealing with aliens or the paranormal. J.K. Simmons brings his trademarks sense of real humanity to his supporting role, and outside of a few of Keri Russell's moments, nothing else in the film rings true, at all.

There are a few design elements that work well. Stewart has the good sense not to show the aliens too much. He shows a degree of discipline that is too often missing in when it comes to visual effects. They're always just out of the range of focus or are shrouded in shadow. Had the script and performances given the audience more reason to fear for this family, to care about what happened to them, this aspect of the film would have worked extremely well. There are one or two particular shots in the film which are very interesting and would have been creepier if the rest of the elements of the film worked.

Dark Skies is a harmless, silly movie that doesn't get nearly as creepy as it attempts to be and the more seriously it takes itself as the film continues, the sillier it seems. It ends up being completely forgettable in that it's not quite bad enough to be memorable for that reason, but it's not a film which is a generally decent and innocuous but fun escape for ninety minutes. It's just utterly forgettable and not worth seeing in the first place. Last years Sinister is a film that had very similar aspirations and in many ways, very similar elements that ended up working much, much better than this film did, so I'd suggest checking that out if you haven't and skipping Dark Skies entirely. If you've seen the trailer for this film, you've seen everything worth seeing.

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