Dark Skies is ‘from the producers of Sinister and Insidious’ according to the movie’s publicity. But then, one might add with a yawn, aren’t they all these days? But wait. Despite being put down by several reviewers as ‘Paranormal Activity with UFOS’, Dark Skies is actually rather better than that. Don’t be put off by the fact that this is the latest film from writer-director Scott Stewart, he of bonkers angels vs demons thriller Legion or homo-erotic futuristic SF-Western comic book picture Priest. Dark Skies doesn’t resemble either of those. In fact it’s a little bit as if Mr Stewart, having thoroughly exhausted himself in making those two other pictures, has now settled down to show us how well he can do in the genre of the science-fiction suspense thriller.
Daniel Barrett (Josh Hamilton) , his wife Lucy (Keri Russell), and their two young sons are the kind of struggling middle class American family seen so frequently in 15-rated ‘horrors’ of late, possibly because they’re also exactly the kind of audience this sort of film is aimed at. Daniel keeps cocking up job interviews while Lucy does her best to bring in some cash working as an estate agent. But soon they’re starting to have other problems. Very, very gradually, strange things are starting to happen around the house. Things like all the photographs in the living room being removed from their frames, and the kitchen furniture auditioning for a remake of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist by forming complex arrangements that cause weird patterns to be projected onto the ceiling. When Lucy loses several hours out of a day it becomes apparent that the Barretts are the subject of an alien experiment, that their house has been under observation for some time, and that such situations usually culminate in the abduction of one or more family members. The film reaches a climax with Daniel barricading his family inside their home during July 4th celebrations in an attempt to withstand the apparent alien menace.
In an era of film-making where the most prosaic of productions try to give you as many explosions/murders/jump out of your seat moments as possibly before the front title has even appeared on the screen, Dark Skies is something of a welcome change. The film takes its time in setting up the Barrett family household, and the insidious invasion of their home is handled subtly and well. The first jump moment doesn’t occur until we’re well over half an hour into the picture, and after that the film builds its tension relentlessly until we get to an ending that obviously isn’t going to be given away here.
Cast and crew do a fine job, with Hamilton and Russell totally believable as the parents just trying to get by, and Dakota Goyo and Kadan Rockett (where do they get names for children from these days?) are good as the kids. Even the crusty old UFOlogist who gets wheeled on to explain what might be going on is nicely underplayed by J K Simmons, when he could quite easily have gone the eye-rolling Christopher Lloyd route. Joseph Bishara contributes an ambient soundscape of a music score that’s just as effective as his work for James Wan’s Insidious, if not more so, but as has already been mentioned above, the real revelation here is writer and director Scott Stewart, who is developing into a talent to watch.
Entertainment One’s DVD and blu-ray also includes a commentary track by Stewart, as well as producer Jason Blum, Executive Producer Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, and Editor Peter Gvozdas. Other than that there’s little in the way of extras other than some alternate and deleted scenes.
A great little alien home invasion thriller, Dark Skies is well worth a look if you fancy 93 minutes of smart, suspense-driven horror.
JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT
Director: Scott Stewart
Starring: Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, J K Simmons, Dakota Goyo,
Running time: 93 minutes (DVD), 97 minutes (blu-ray)
Release date: 5 August 2013
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