Review: Dark Skies (2013)

From the producer of Paranormal Activity and Insidious comes Dark Skies, a science-fiction horror about a suburban family mysteriously targeted for something sinister.

Missed the glut of horror films over the last few years? Fear not, Dark Skies will fix that as it forgoes any sort of uniqueness in order to capitalise on the current trend of ‘possession’ films. It does does differ in way however and replaces ghosts/demons with aliens. Referencing more horror films than a Scary Movie instalment, you can spot where you’ve seen something before almost every 15 minutes, from the flickering television set of Poltergeist to the home CCTV of the Paranormal series. But beneath the sea of unoriginality, there’s a decent movie to be found.

Not to be confused with the 1990’s TV show of the same name despite both dealing with alien abduction, this is more horror than sci-fi. A few other films have tried this; The Fourth Kind failed miserably, and Signs was never really that scary despite being on the cusp of a good film. Fundamentally though, mix these two together and Dark Skies is what you get.

It centres on the Barrett family who are struggling financially in suburbia; architect father Daniel (Josh Hamilton) cannot seem to get a job after being laid off and mother Lacy (Keri Russell) is on edge trying to support them all as an estate agent. Juvenile son Jesse (Dakota Goyo) is slowly coming of age and younger sibling Sam is having trouble sleeping. One night a strange occurrence happens within their home. From then it becomes increasingly terrifying each time in the form of dreams, possessions and random events. Can they discover and stop what’s after them before it’s too late?

Like with most films of this nature, parent-children issues play a huge part in forming the basis of the plot, and there’s an analogy somewhere here of the values instilled into the American way of life, especially as it climaxes on Independence Day. While not overtly directed at the teenage son, there are pointers in that direction with his mild drug use and interest in girls. But in the end, its good old-fashioned scares which keeps this ticking away, albeit ones which we have seen all before.

Nonetheless, what it lacks in imagination is made up in any other aspects. The score is perfectly poised, heightening the scares at the right moment to a spine-chilling level, and predominantly TV actress Keri Russell is excellent, particularly the scene when she becomes possessed. This is balanced somewhat but the weak performance of the kids, but the small appearance of J.K. Simmons adds further intrigue in the compulsory explanation segment of a man who knows what it is all about. Top it off with crisply shot homages to The Birds and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and you are left with a surprisingly satisfying mash-up.

There is a lame twist at the end though that makes no sense, just seemingly tacked on for any potential sequel, and anyone who wants to see something different should stay well clear. However, enjoy what it has to offer: polished, recycled ideas with some truly terrific scares. Dark Skies may be alien on creativity, but it is well acted, well made and well worth giving a try.

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