Sunday, October 20, 2013

Dark Skies

Directed by Scott Stewart.
2013. Rated PG-13, 97 minutes.
Josh Hamilton
Kadan Rockett
L.J. Benet
Myndy Crist
Rich Hutchman
Josh Stamberg

The Barrett family is like many others that dot the landscape of Suburban America in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Once prosperous, Daniel (Hamilton) and Lacy (Russell) are now having financial issues which is causing stress in other areas of life. This includes their relationship with their two boys Jesse (Goyo) and Sam (Rockett). What they don’t realize is they’re about to encounter their biggest problem. A string of strange events occur in their home. They are obviously staged by an outsider, but no evidence is left to let anyone know who the culprit might be. In fact, local police think it’s the couple’s own children behaving mischievously. A little harder to explain is why hundreds of birds come flying into their house all at once. Early in the proceedings, we figure out the family is receiving nightly visits from aliens. It takes the Barretts a little longer to catch on.

Even though we know we’re dealing with visitors from outer space, Dark Skies functions much like a haunted house flick. This serves to amplify any uneasy feelings we might have. We know that these beings have sinister motives. We just don’t know what they are. At keeping us interested, the movie is fairly successful. We see the aliens progressively upping the ante and await the inevitable action-packed fate. Our two leads also help in this regard, especially Keri Russell. We can plainly see her edges fraying because she is believable through all of it. Also helping is the great J.K. Simmons. In every movie such as this, the terrorized family has to seek out a so-called expert on their particular phenomenon. Simmons plays that guy. Here, he’s a bit more subdued than normal. This is fitting because he’s a weary, beaten man. In a review of one of Simmons’ movies (I forget which), Roger Ebert says, and I’m paraphrasing, that when you see Simmons in a supporting role you often wind up wishing the whole movie were about him. It’s true here, as well.

Conversely, Dark Skies struggles mightily in other areas. By other areas, I mean almost anything not directly depicting the aliens’ handiwork. It’s all a mess. Things are introduced and dropped or, worse, proven to be preposterous. The most noticeable thing being the family’s supposed money problems. Such a big deal is made of them, as if the movie is going to somehow angle all of this as a metaphor for the economic state of the nation. Any idealistic notions such as that go out the window when it becomes apparent they’re spending all sorts of money that they shouldn't have merely because the plot requires them to have certain things in order to move forward. We, the audience, would be better off never having heard anything about their financial situation. Another is what the authorities are attempting to do because it looks to everyone like Daniel and Lacy are abusing their kids. It’s built up then practically aborted except for some lip service later on. It just never feels like a real threat. In short, the script could use some tightening up.

What winds up happening is this becomes a less than filling movie experience. The alien stuff works fine, clearly the best part of the film, but isn't breaking any new ground. The human aspects fall short. Early on, this doesn't appear to be an issue as we’re gaining empathy for these people. As things progress, they fall apart. This leaves the more successful parts of the movie to try to carry the weight of both halves. This, it cannot do.

MY SCORE: 5/10

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