Review: Dark Skies / Cert: 15 / Director: Scott Stewart / Screenplay: Scott Stewart / Starring: Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo, Kaden Rockett, J.K. Simmons / Release Date: Out Now
The Barrett family, living a quiet suburban life somewhere in middle America, are having a tough time. Architect Dad Daniel (Hamilton) is struggling to find a job and estate agent Mom Lacey (Russell) can’t get a decent commission to save her life. Youngest son Sammy (Rockett) stays awake at night talking to his brother Jesse (Goyo) via walkie talkie and listening to creepy stories about ’The Sandman’. Then the weird stuff starts to happen: food thrown all over the kitchen floor, cans and packages arranged into towers and strange signs projected onto the ceiling. Then the burglar alarm persistently goes off without reason, hundreds of birds crash into the house, they each experience incidents of catatonia or loss of control and suddenly the two boys are covered in strange and inexplicable bruises. Are the Barretts being terrorised by some supernatural entity or is something even more sinister at work in their home?
Dark Skies plays like a cross between Paranormal Activity and Signs and director/writer Scott Stewart (previously responsible for the Paul Bettany travesties Legion and Priest) seems to be reasonably comfortable toying with our expectations of the ‘haunted house’ movie and then subverting them with an alien abduction conspiracy mystery. Fortunately he’s chosen not to go down the ‘found footage’ route – although there’s a couple of security camera sequences which nod in the general direction of Paranormal Activity and its ilk – but his story and characters hit a dead end which leads to the inevitable introduction of J.K. Simmons’ alien abduction expert who’s on board purely to provide some necessary exposition and to set up the events leading to the finale.
Dark Skies is derivative and fairly generic and offers nothing scarier than the average TV movie but it’s generally well-paced, nicely performed (the Barretts and their financial woes give the movie a recognisably contemporary edge) and it’s always nice to see ‘the Grays’ again, those long, spindly, bulging-eyed aliens whose image was popular currency back in the post-X-Files days. If nothing else it shows that Stewart is better served working to a low budget than trying to overstretch himself with big fanciful under-resourced sci-fi concepts. Meaningless title apart – Dark Skies might ring a few bells as a one-season American alien conspiracy TV series from the 1990s – this is a diverting and thoroughly watchable low-key thriller which does nothing we haven’t seen before but does it with plenty of style and bags of atmosphere.
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10