Director: Scott Charles Stewart
Cast: Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo, Annie Thurman, Michael Patrick McGill, Trevor St. John, Ariana Guido, Josh Wingate
RunTime: 1 hr 37 mins
Rating: PG (Some Coarse Language and Sexual References)
Released By: Shaw
Official Website: http://darkskiesfilm.com/
Opening Day: 18 April 2013
Synopsis: From the producer of Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and Sinister comes Dark Skies: a supernatural thriller that follows a young family living in the suburbs. As husband and wife Daniel and Lacey Barret witness an escalating series of disturbing events involving their family, their safe and peaceful home quickly unravels. When it becomes clear that the Barret family is being targeted by an unimaginably terrifying and deadly force, Daniel and Lacey take matters in their own hands to solve the mystery of what is after their family.
How many ways can a house be haunted? Just ask Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions, the company behind as many haunted house movies in recent years – think ‘Paranormal Activity’, ‘Insidious’ and the most recent ‘Sinister’. Well, writer/ director Scott Stewart’s ‘Dark Skies’ marks yet another addition to the list, but an interesting addition at that, for it takes the oft-done subgenre into extra-terrestrial territory. Yes, you read that right, there are aliens in this one. Intrigued yet?
Stewart sets the stage by quoting sci-fi novelist Arthur C. Clarke – ‘Two possibilities exist. Either we are alone in this world or we are not. Both are terrifying.’ For the purpose of this movie, Stewart takes the latter interpretation, spinning a rather straightforward but surprisingly gripping story of a suburban family coming to terms with a malevolent presence stalking them at night from within their house. The youngest, Sam (Kadan Rockett), refers to the nocturnal visitor as ‘The Sandman’, but as we are well aware, this isn’t some fairy tale character from his imagination.
Starting off rather innocuously with a mysterious raid on the fridge and some artwork-like rearrangement of the family possessions, the disturbances get serious quite quickly when hundreds of birds from three different flocks commit suicide by flying straight towards the windows of the house. Then each family member takes turns experiencing blackouts or seizure-like episodes, leaving them with injuries they cannot explain. While Sam’s mother Lucy (Keri Russell) links this to a tall pitch-dark stranger she glimpsed in his room, his dad Daniel (Josh Hamilton) takes a little more time to buy into the idea that his family has been ‘chosen’ by aliens.
To the seasoned horror viewer, Stewart’s bag of tricks will seem awfully familiar. There is the child – i.e. Sam – who speaks to invisible friends at night and then depicts them on crude colour drawings. There is the eccentric expert Daniel and Lucy talk to in order to make sense of the strange occurences, played here by J.K. Simmons. And finally, there’s a red herring inserted into the climax, in this case the one family member first contacted and therefore targeted for abduction by the aliens. Even the aliens with their oval-shaped heads and long thin bodies look awfully similar to that in previous Hollywood movies and TV dramas (e.g. The X-Files), the added name tag of ‘the greys’ adding little novelty to their depiction here.
And yet, these familiar elements come together unexpectedly well under Stewart’s assured hand. Opting for atmosphere over easy scares, Stewart builds a looming sense of dread over the family with each unfolding incident, reeling in his audience slowly but surely until the startling climax. It also helps that Stewart takes care in shaping his characters – the anxious mother Lucy, the strong father figure Daniel, the reticent older brother Jesse (Dakota Goya) and the terrified younger one Sam – and painting the family as an ordinary middle-class household facing the everyday real-life pressures of employment and mortgages, allowing his audience to identify with their despair, anxiety and ultimately quiet resolve in such a situation.
Stewart’s attention to character is also mirrored in the cast’s attention to their performances. In particular, Russell makes for a truly effective mother, her character’s terror and dread felt more and more keenly during the course of the film. Hamilton’s transformation from doubt to belief is also well-played, and his interplay with Russell creates a warm easy rapport which makes it easy to empathise with their predicament. Indeed, the effort that Stewart spends on his characters is a welcome departure from his earlier glossy but ultimately empty FX-laden works (i.e. ‘Priest’ and ‘Legion’).
So even though it doesn’t feel particularly fresh like the way previous Blumhouse horror thrillers did, ‘Dark Skies’ still is a solid addition to the new wave of ‘haunted house’ pictures. All the genre tropes are here, but Stewart applies them with dexterity and complements it with an effective suspense-filled buildup. If you’re in need of a quick horror fix, this will do just fine.
(Substituting aliens for spirits or demons, this latest ‘haunted house’ picture applies familiar genre tricks well enough for a suspenseful experience)
Review by Gabriel Chong