A black hole of indifference has surrounded the release of “Dark Skies,” but the apathetic reception makes sense, at least on the surface. Why should anyone care about a film that is basically just “Paranormal Activity 4” without the found footage gimmick or the presence of ghosts? Well, here’s why you should care: “Dark Skies” is weird, just really, really weird in a very earnest, straight-faced way.
“Dark Skies” is a film that is both creepy and goofy; often at the same time. With “Dark Skies,” you’ll never really know if you’re watching something good or something truly awful, and that’s why this movie deserves your attention.
“Dark Skies” depicts a family on the brink of collapse. Dad (Josh Hamilton) is basically unemployable, Mom (Keri Russell) is an unsuccessful realtor, their oldest son is a typically troubled teen, and their youngest is like every small child in a horror movie nowadays: affected and creepy.
Every night, their delicate familial bonds are exacerbated when their house is ransacked in increasingly creative ways (like carefully stacking all the appliances in their kitchen). All of the evidence seems to suggest that this inspired bit of vandalism is perpetrated by their youngest son, seemingly while stuck in a fugue state. But as the incidents grow larger and less explainable (such as a flock of birds mindlessly hurling themselves into the side of their home and a tall, gray figure milling around one of their son’s bedrooms), Russell and Hamilton turn to a defeated and mostly ineffectual UFO expert (an underused J.K. Simmons) for help. But, unfortunately, it may already be too late for all of them.
“Dark Skies” is a film that tries to conform to the clichés of the haunted house genre but always manages to get those clichés slightly wrong. For example, the aliens’ campaign of terror against the family is never anything more than a series of petty and vindictive pranks. Throughout “Dark Skies,” But here’s the weird part – as silly as the film gets, it’s still oddly effective. Whether it’s because of the evocative cinematography or Scott Stewart’s unusually strong direction, the laughter kind of gets stuck in our throats. We should be laughing at the scenes where Russell robotically bashes her head off of a sliding patio door or when Hamilton wanders into his front yard in his underwear sporting the world’s dopiest looking “duh” face, but we can’t.
Everything in “Dark Skies” is so subtly off-kilter it’s unsettling. There’s just so many strange little touches found in this film, like the moment where a teenager casually jumps around on a trampoline that is covered in dead bird carcasses, the straight-faced absurdity of the various dreamsequences, or the inexplicable third act development that finds the aliens attempting to trick social services into taking Hamilton and Russell’s kids away from them, which briefly transforms “Dark Skies” into a Lifetime movie as scripted by a schizophrenic.
Granted, “Dark Skies” may be slower paced than the average horror movie, but it’s also far more rewarding.
- By Mike Sullivan, Weekender Correspondent