Dark Skies

Dark Skies


Reviewed by: David Graham

Anyone intrigued to see what might have become of Steven Spielberg’s un-filmed proto-E.T. script Night Skies should get a kick out of the conspicuously similar Dark Skies, which is eerily reminiscent of an extra-terrestrial Poltergeist, one of the projects birthed from the abandoned Close Encounters follow-up. Writer/director Scott Stewart could easily have cashed in on the Paranormal Activity franchise’s popularity with another diminishing return to its stock scares, but he’s followed up back-to-back duds Legion and Priest with a surprisingly engaging mystery thriller, anchored by convincing performances and a confident build-up of suspense.

Times are tough in the Barrett household: main bread-winner Daniel has been made redundant, and his wife Lacy is having sleepless nights over their son Sammy’s odd behaviour. Their teenage son Jesse is also hanging out with an older kid who Daniel doesn’t approve of, but all of these problems fade into insignificance when a string of escalating and inexplicable occurrences descend upon their home. As the dysfunction leads their neighbours to suspect the Barretts of abusing their children, evidence increasingly points towards an alien presence, so the couple consult a specialist whose insight isn’t exactly encouraging but may just keep the family together.

Working to a predictable slow-burn structure but maintaining interest through vividly drawn characters with relatable problems, Stewart peppers the story with diverting events that sometimes detract from the human drama. Many of the individual incidents fail to add up to a consistent mythology, only serving as a reminder of how derivative the script is - sleepwalking children, phantom feng shui forces, flocks of kamikaze birds – but they still work to build an ominous air of mystery.

Other moments where family members appear possessed and catatonic descend into unintentionally hilarious silliness, but the well-balanced pacing works in favour of the disparate genre elements. Aside from a couple of obvious but effective jolts that show Stewart’s hand a little too early – including one moment lifted wholesale from Signs - viewers should find themselves agreeably bewildered as to the specifics of many of the disturbances, with the ambiguity running right to the end in classic X-Files fashion.

Stewart does muster some real intensity for the siege climax, throwing in a well-played sleight of hand that wraps things up in a way that will resonate for as many viewers as it will frustrate. It’s a denouement that’s consistent with the various serious concerns the script has wrestled with though, including how to ensure the safety of children, as well as the respectability of parents.

Some of the drama covers the same ground as stunning child abuse saga Mysterious Skin, where alien interference was a defence mechanism against childhood abuse. Flipping that situation on its head puts Dark Skies into similar territory to gruelling witch-hunt saga The Hunt, and during these scenes of domestic doubt and anxiety, Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton really shine. The kids are also excellent, with a simultaneously frosty but affectionate dynamic between the younger Kadan Rockett and big bro Dakota Goyo, whose handling of the teenage disaffection brought on by hormones and peer pressure marks him out as one to watch.

JK Simmons also crops up in an unnecessary expository sequence that works tension up for the finale but spells everything out in overly condescending fashion, while some of the last-minute revelations seem like desperate afterthoughts. Dark Skies is a definite step in the right direction for Stewart though and a fine thriller in its own right; the heavy-handed and spoiler-laden trailer doesn’t quite do it justice, while the unexpected human element ensures it should prove a more satisfying experience for discerning audiences than the clichéd boo-fest it’s being marketed as.

Reviewed on: 03 Apr 2013
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Something is haunting the Barrett family residence and it seems to be after the Barretts themselves.
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Director: Scott Stewart

Writer: Scott Stewart

Starring: Keri Russell, Jake Brennan, Josh Hamilton, Kadan Rockett, JK Simmons

Year: 2013

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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