Published Feb 21, 2013Contrary to how it's been marketed, Dark Skies is not a half-baked mash-up of Signs and The Birds. The poorly cut trailer aside, scepticism over a new project from the man behind the unintentionally laughable Legion and Priest is more than warranted — it's required. Therefore, it's more than a little surprising to find that this suburban mystery is, for the most part, a competent and effective thriller.
Commencing with a famous quote from hard sci-fi legend Arthur C. Clarke ("Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying"), director/writer Scott Stewart makes no bones about the questions his film will be asking. The characters facing this scientific, existential conundrum are the Barrets. Financial strife has put a strain on this generic Caucasian American family, causing tension between mommy and daddy, thus alienating their children.
Instability leading to resentment and isolation is the primary theme bubbling underneath the inexplicable events that begin to plague this unremarkable clan. The first disturbance is attributed to unseen somnambulistic behaviour by one of Lacy (Keri Russell) and Daniel's (Josh Hamilton) two children: Jesse (Dakota Goyo, Real Steel) and Sam (Kadan Rockett).
As the situation grows increasingly elaborate and bizarre — a geometric model constructed out of foodstuffs appears; a hail of kamikaze birds pelts their house — it becomes apparent that the answer must be more enigmatic and sinister.
Though it's still a far cry from the open interpretation of even a film like Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall, Stewart admirably refuses to tip his hand until late in the story. After he does, however, it leads to a telegraphed, twist-reliant conclusion that undermines the more insidious psychological underpinnings established throughout the narrative. By no means does the shaky landing ruin the journey, but it does frustrate those who prefer more open-ended conclusions.
Still, Dark Skies is a success of atmosphere (the ominous sound design is a bit manipulative, but unnerving nonetheless) and pacing, with character-driven asides involving the awkward, budding sexuality of Jesse and the innocent attribution of fairy-tale descriptions to inexplicable phenomena by younger son Sam.
It's a spine-tingler first and foremost, but one that has uncommonly meaty subtext for a mainstream chiller built from repurposed clichés. (Alliance)