Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton star in Dark Skies, a supernatural thriller about a cash strapped family who’s lives are thrown into chaos after a series of disturbing events that occur to them and their home. As the activity becomes more terrifying, the couple discover that there may be more to this than a ‘rational’ explanation.
Director Scott Stewart’s previous efforts aren’t particularly memorable (the very similar Legion and Priest), but his work on the effects of Sin City, Jurassic Park 2 and Iron Man gave the film promise, and add the contribution of producers from Insidious and Paranormal Activity to the mix, and Dark Skies could have been an impressive and effective chiller. Unfortunately, there are far too many factors that stop it from being so.
To start with, the pacing is tediously slow, with the first 45 minutes playing out more like a soap opera and family drama than a supernatural thriller. This may have been the intention, but the lack of any real threat for such an extended period of time makes Dark Skies a failure for its first act. It could be forgiven if the time was constructively spent moulding characters that we care about, but this is also not the case; Lacey (Russell) and Daniel (Hamilton) are as stock as they come, as is their dire financial situation. In the long run, it has no bearing on the narrative, and this further adds to the plodding nature.
When it becomes noticeable that the film is going nowhere, it’s ironically the time that it kicks into life with its creepiest (and only real scare) moment: it’s no spoiler to say that the family are being targeted by aliens, and the first glance of the beings conjures up the films best scene. From then on, Dark Skies becomes more focused, but still never really cranks up the tension. J.K. Simmons’ character could not arrive at a better time, and is clear highlight. He essentially serves as the ‘revealer’ of what’s going on, but his experience as an actor means he brings far more to the alien expert role than required. His screen time is cruelly short, but nevertheless memorable.
Dark Skies attempts to throw a curveball in its final showdown, but it’s nothing that can’t be figured out if you’ve been paying attention. In today’s world, it’s commendable of Scott Stewart to have tried to make an alien movie, and somewhere out there, there’s still a good extra-terrestrial story to be told. Unfortunately, this isn’t it.