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December 21, 2014
Anthology of Interest: Dark Skies

Monday, February 25th, 2013

By Mike Girard

J.K. Simmons (L) and Keri Russell (R)

J.K. Simmons (L) and Keri Russell (R)

In a suburban neighborhood, a happy couple runs into problems when mysterious monsters begin to torment their toddler child. Haven’t I heard that somewhere before? Ah, yes, it was in every other horror movie from the 1980s onward.

Dark Skies tells the story of Lacy (Keri Russell) and Daniel Barrett (Josh Hamilton), the victims of frequent and disturbing alien visits. Of course, it takes about 40 minutes for them to finally accept the fact, which is annoying enough in itself. Don’t horror characters watch enough movies to know that something is wrong when hundreds of birds fly directly into their house and their children wake up with geometric markings all over their bodies?

The alien visits begin innocently enough, but soon members of the family begin to get nose bleeds, have black outs, and wet themselves (literally). Lacy and Daniel contact J.K. Simmons, whose character is so pulled from the horror stock bin that it isn’t even worth mentioning the character’s name. Simmons explains that the aliens are called the “Greys,” and that they wish to experiment on humans by abducting Sam (Kadan Rockett), the youngest son, because why not? It’s a movie. The Barretts have a final showdown with the aliens. The ending isn’t worth summarizing.

It’s been a while since a good extra-terrestrial film came out – that is, a film that hinges on the question of alien life and the problem of what the aliens might do to us, feeble humans as we are. The last one I can remember is District 9 from 2009. Has it been four years already? Far more modern films involve “aliens” than you may realize: The Avengers (2012), Transformers (2007), and even Spider-Man 3 (2007). So it’s an understandably big deal when a film attempts to address that big question – the one those other films ignore – in an honest and real way: what would aliens be like, and what could they possibly want with us?

Unfortunately, Dark Skies pretty much ignores that question and relies on horror clichés and pointless build-up sequences to fill the theater seats. I’ll admit, I jumped when Lacy first spied one of the Greys hovering over her son’s bed, but after that, the horror aspect goes out the window, only to be replaced by lame and unoriginal exposition. I find the fear of any monster is completely removed once you understand the “why” – I’m not afraid of E.T. because he just wants to go home, but lord knows I’ll never be able to play Slender with the lights off. I know nothing about him or what he wants, and that makes him the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen.

This film opens with a quote from one of my favorite people, science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke: “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” I can’t think of a single reason justifying the use of this quote. I think the writers were confused and believed that it deals with primal fear rather than the overwhelming sense of trying to comprehend what lies (or doesn’t lie) in the great black beyond. But even if it were included for the purpose of horror, most of the interesting and scary scenes were revealed in the film’s trailer. They’re a letdown due to the ridiculously long build-up scenes, where the camera follows a character as he slowly walks around a dark bedroom, whispering, “hello?” – has there ever been a movie where that line received an answer?

One of the only redeeming qualities of this film was J.K. Simmons, who explains the entire conflict in a five-minute-long scene. Even that was featured heavily in the trailer, no doubt due to Simmons’ star power; he barely had a page of dialogue in the entire movie, but was billed as a main cast member.

I spent $8.50 on the ticket. You’re probably better off buying a month’s subscription to a movie streaming site and watching Poltergeist (1982), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and Alien (1979); you won’t find anything in Dark Skies that isn’t done better in all of the above.






     








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