Director: Scott Stewart
Cast: Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, J.K. Simmons, Kadan Rockett
Running time: 96 minutes
Certification: 15

As Lacy and Daniel Barrett, a suburban couple with two kids and money troubles, begin experiencing strange phenomena around their home, ranging from three separate flocks of birds inexplicably flying directly into their house at the same time to mysterious bruises and blackouts, they grow increasingly concerned with the safety of their youngest son, Sammy, who seems to be taking the brunt of the happenings.

Dark Skies is marketed as a horror, what with the posters being plastered with the line: “from the producers of Paranormal Activity and Insidious”, and it does deliver on that promise to a certain extent.  There are plenty of jump scares to make your popcorn fly, and the disconcerting, eerie atmosphere held throughout makes you constantly uneasy, but on the whole it’s not as scary as I would have liked.  Don’t get me wrong: it has it’s creepy moments, and I did jump a few times, but in general I just don’t find aliens as scary as ghosts of demons, or even serial killers.  Sure they can be chilling; just look at Ridley Scott’s Alien and M. Night Shyamalaladingdong’s Signs (which incidentally Dark Skies draws heavily from, right down to a near reenactment of the climactic scene), but to me they’re never as bone-chillingly creepy.  Consequently, depending on which way you look at it, this is the main area where the film either falls down or stands up.  It wants so much to be a nuts-and-bolts horror, with characters slowly creeping through dark houses, leading up to the inevitable jump scare (of which there are more than several), but in fact it really works best as a sci-fi/thriller.  For me, it falls down slightly when it’s trying to just be a horror, but it stands up again when it moves into thriller territory.  There are a lot of interesting ideas here, plenty of nice set-pieces, and it’s often very unnerving, it’s just that it loses some of that when it pushes the scares too far into horror territory.

J.K. Simmons pops up as a solemn, fedora-donning ET investigator

Importantly – and also rather surprisingly – the plot isn’t as predictable as it looks on the tin.  On the face of it you may think you can see exactly where everything is going from the opening sequence, but things don’t always play out in the way you expect.  Sure, there are certain strands that are pretty clear cut, and one particular sub-plot involving the eldest son going through pre-pubescence doesn’t serve much purpose other than taking up a lot of the running time, but the end results aren’t so obvious, and the way we get to those end results aren’t either.  There was even a bit of a twist that I have to admit I didn’t see coming.  Perhaps an unforeseen twist isn’t the highest praise one can pay a film, considering that’s the very essence of a twist, but it still feels a valid point here.

Dark Skies can be considered something of a triumph when you look at writer/director Scott Stewart’s previous credits, the less than stellar Priest and the only slightly better Legion.  It lacks a certain punch, but it definitely has it’s moments of creepiness and there are interesting sci-fi ideas throughout.

3 stars w 2 empty

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