Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Dark Skies (2013) : The Truth Isn't Out THERE, It's Already HERE...

Invariably, when someone asks me what kind of movie scares me the most, I almost always say ghost stories. But I'm wondering if that is still really accurate. Because it seems like I get pretty damn freaked out by movies about aliens. And in case you were wondering, Dark Skies is that kind of film.

When Signs (2002) came out nearly a dozen years ago, it really wasn't scary at all.  UNTIL that alien walked by on the video of that kid's birthday party. You know the scene I mean! That scared the piss out of me for a split second. But then I just had to rewind it and watch it again. Did I just see what I thought I saw? Uh, yeah I did.
 I was also a colossal X-Files fanatic, and though I enjoyed the stand alone horror-centric episodes best, it's not to say I wasn't thoroughly unnerved by the little green men stories.

But here in Dark Skies, we are dealing with grey men, and they aren't so little! Quite tall in fact, and more ominous as you would expect. Writer/director Scott Stewart (Legion, 2010, and the equally appalling Priest, 2011) takes a time-worn theory and loads of clichéd tidbits from the vast sea of past sci-fi films and television shows to reel us in yet again with a story about a subtle alien invasion.
But to quote the great J. K. Simmons (who plays a knowledgeable conspiracy theorist and expert on all things alien): "They're already here". He explains that "they" have been here for quite some time, and that experimentation and abduction have been occurring for years.  Which I think is at the heart of everyone's base fear of an invasion.

In the film, Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton play Lacey and Daniel Barrett, your average American family with two sons and an overdue mortgage.  Daniel has fallen on hard times in the job market and they are struggling to make ends meet with Lacey's paltry salary as a real estate agent with a soft heart (in other words, she has a tough time lying to potential buyers about the quality of the homes for sale and therefore is not very good at her job).

The eldest son, Jesse (Dakota Goyo), has been hanging out with an older boy who is a bad influence, getting Jesse into drugs and porn; and younger son Sammy (Kadan Rockett) has been having conversations with "The Sandman" during the night and acting pretty bizarre. 

Besides Sammy's nocturnal oddities, the family starts experiencing strange occurrences.  The home's alarm system keeps going off for no reason. One night Lacey wakes up and discovers the refrigerator open with all the food all over the floor. Another night all the food in the cupboards is stacked on top of each other so that the reflection on the ceiling makes a weird, crop-circle type pattern. Yet another night they find all the photos out of the picture frames throughout the house.

At first blaming the happenings on the kids, the Barretts then start losing periods of time, waking up at home in bed when they were not even at home at last memory.  Each family member seems to go into a hypnotic state at one time or another, staring off at nothing with their mouths hanging open in apparent fear.  Perhaps even stranger, an entire flock of starlings (blackbirds) fly into their house in a mass suicide. When they have the strange anomaly looked into, the fish and wildlife service tells them something must be drawing the birds to their home, as there were three different flocks coming from three different areas.

In a pivotal moment in the film, Lacey hears Sammy talking in his sleep and goes into his room only to discover a tall, unearthly figure standing over Sammy's bed in the shadows. When she turns on the light, Sammy isn't there. In fact, he's standing outside in the yard.

At this point, Daniel takes a clue from Paranormal Activity and sets up cameras all over the house, becoming obsessed with watching the screens.

Child protective services is called in after Sammy is found to have bruises all over him, and Daniel finally takes the hint that they may be dealing with something other than a human when the video screens show the same preternatural-looking creatures standing over everyone's beds. They take their claims to an expert in the field (Simmons), who tells them to prepare for a battle to save the family member the aliens are intent on taking. For this reason the Barretts do not allow little Sammy out of their sight.

While Dark Skies seems very ordinary and really didn't see much action at the box office, I found it to be a fairly decent film. It moves at a decent pace, kept my attention, and really freaked me out more than once.I actually jumped out of my skin the first time the aliens are shown. 

The cast worked well for me, with Josh Hamilton the only member that I was less than happy with - his acting felt a little wooden for me - but the others make up for it.
You can see the struggle of the family dealing with the possible foreclosure of their house and the thought of not being able to provide for his family wears on David - you can see the visible evidence in his eyes. The couple fights like normal couples do, yet pulls together when things really get out of hand - and I'm not talking car payments and piano lessons here.  I'm pretty sure aliens put a damper on any kind of future plans.

The film, while certainly not a new concept, is well directed and works equally as well as a family drama as it does a thriller. The aliens are shown mostly in shadows, and believe me, they work.  The movie amps up the action after the family finally accepts the dark truth, and even when you think you can see where the director is going, you don't.  I wouldn't call it a surprise ending, but I would say I love it when a film keeps me guessing and doesn't end the way Hollywood thinks it should.  The finale also centers around the July 4th holiday, so it's perfect viewing right around this time of the year.

So I would have to recommend Dark Skies if you're even remotely a sci-fan fan, and especially if you are open-minded...or have video cameras set up anywhere in your house.

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