Written and directed by Scott Stewart
Starring Keri Russell, Jake Brennan, Josh Hamilton
Runtime of 97 minutes
by Joseph C. Bracco
Months after the original release, I was finally able to see the movie that had me wondering if it could top the feeling I had while watching “The Fourth Kind, terror-stricken, and it did. Kind of.
If there’s one thing that I have a love-hate relationship with, it’s a movie that involves extraterrestrials. (Well, scary movies with aliens more so. “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” is cool in my books.)
When I originally saw the trailer for this movie, I will say I was all aboard the Scott Stewart train. His past few years were productive, and I was a huge fan of “Legion,” which he wrote and directed.
The movie itself has the basic outline of many scary movies that are based in a suburban neighborhood around a nuclear family, in this case the Barretts. The movie focuses on the two Barrett boys, Sam (Kadan Rockett), around five years old, who is adorable and somehow not played by Danny Lloyd; the other, Jesse (Dakota Goyo), an adolescent teen struggling with losing his “momma’s boy” title as well as a Justin Bieber haircut. (Yes, I did just reference Justin Bieber, but the haircut is key to the ending of the movie. No, really.)
Daniel Barrett (Josh Hamilton) is a middle class father who is unemployed, stressed-out, and looking for a new job. His wife Lacy (Keri Russell) is an average realtor who should’ve stuck with her day job.
The movie builds itself on relating to the struggling family that many of us are involved in today. With a teenage boy that looks after his younger brother, he does what most older brothers will do from time to time, which is to try and scare their siblings. At night, when the children are supposed to be sleeping, they use walkie-talkies to talk secretly and sometimes even share bedtime stories.
Well, one night Jesse felt it was necessary to tell Sam about the Sandman. The Sandman was just a fictional character that was described from a book Jesse read, but Sam felt he was real. After that night of learning about the Sandman, it seems as if everything starts going downhill.
It starts with their mother hearing a weird noise coming from downstairs. Thinking it was one of the kids, she proceeds to check both of their rooms, where she sees them passed out in bed. She continues her scouting and stumbles upon her refrigerator open with food displaced on the floor and a soda can popped open. Startled by what she has seen, Lacy follows the line of trash, which leads her to the sliding glass door standing open. Assuming it was a burglar, she and her husband decide to reactivate the home security system and cameras, which they had cancelled due to finances.
As the story progresses, bizarre events continue to occur nightly, events that become more and more unexplainable without some otherworldly explanation. A flock of three different migrations of birds crash into the house.
Later that night, we encounter the aliens for the first time.
The alarm gets tripped, Daniel runs downstairs to make sure no one has broken in, and the mother goes to check on her sons. She opens the door to Sam’s room and sees a tall, skinny figure standing by the side of his bed. She quickly turns on the light to see that her son and the being have now vanished. Startlingly, Sam reappears outside shortly after in his underwear, confused as to why he’s standing in front of the house. One by one, each family member is struck by periods of possession by these beings.
Daniel is in denial until these possessions affect him. His wife is awakened by noises downstairs and notices her husband is out of bed. Walking downstairs searching for him she notices the sliding glass door open again, and Daniel is standing there with his back facing her. She begins to call his name, but he doesn’t respond.
As Lacy walks around Daniel’s paralyzed, upright body, the camera is fixed on his face. His face is contorted almost in a mid-yawn pose, and he begins to bleed profusely from his nose and mouth.The wife runs back into the house, and when she gets inside and turns the corner, her husband is there cleaning up a sudden nose bleed and asking “What am I doing in the kitchen?” Many horror movies leave us anticipating something popping into frame, a scary facial expression or another device to make us want to look away, and “Dark Skies” is no different, but this scene is particularly effective.
During these possessions the hosts lose all sense of time and memory, so whole hours of the day are not remembered. Each member of the family experiences lost time, and that’s when the parents, even though the father is still trying to find other explanations for what’s going on, decide to look for outside help — not from a psychologist but local UFO researcher, Edwin Pollard (J.K. Simmons). Fortunately for the Barretts, Edwin doesn’t wear a tinfoil hat; his attire is more like that of Sam Neill’s iconic Dr. Grant in “Jurassic Park.”
Daniel and Lacy make an appointment and meet at his apartment downtown. Edwin is not only a researcher but also claims he himself has had frequent contact with aliens. When invited into Edwin’s apartment, Daniel and Lacy notice that Edwin has numerous cats. They mention this, and Edwin explains he has cats because dogs were too able to sense when the aliens were coming or already around the apartment. The barking simply became too much of a nuisance.
Edwin sets out to verify the Barretts’ story with a questionnaire of yes or no questions, and director Stewart uses this to fine effect, illustrating just how much the Barretts don’t know. The first few questions Edwin asks are answered with “No,” until he mentions that both of them are probably already “chipped” by the aliens. Daniel realizes he’s had a scab that has been itching behind his ear and brings it up to Edwin. Edwin confirms that a chip has been implanted but the rash indicates that his body is not reacting to it well.
“Can’t I just take it out?” Daniel asks. Edwin explains that he wouldn’t be able to take it out because he also tried to remove his own chip. Edwin turns and presents the same mark behind his ear, which looks as if several razors were unsuccessful.
“Why us? What makes us so special?” Daniel asks.
“Nothing,” Edwin replies.
So, it seems as if the aliens picked this family based on a sort of “Bubble gum, bubble gum in a dish, how many pieces do you wish?” method — luck of the draw, I guess.
The aliens pick a random family and usually abduct the youngest one. Edwin explains that the only way to prevent this from happening is for the family to “come together” and stay together to fend off these aliens until they tire and move on to the next. The film continues on in this way with the family getting supplies together and a game plan on how they are going to take these aliens head-on.
“Dark Skies” had its potential, and who am I to say that it wasn’t the best film. I will say if you catch yourself wanting to stay in one night and want to rent a scary movie, this will get the job done. It has its moments where you jump, or whisper profanities under your breath, but that’s where it’s appeal ends. If you can look past its mediocre dialogue and acting, the movie will get the job done with periodic scares.