‘Dark Skies’ – Movie Review.

3 Apr

Dark Skies posterUsing the pretext of “From the producer of Paranormal Activity, Insidious and Sinister…” as if that was something worth boasting about initially left me more than sceptical. Predictable, cheap scares where the sudden blares of music are often more frightening than what’s actually happening on screen, they haven’t exactly been doing horror’s reputation any favours. Now here comes Dark Skies, an intuitive take on the established ‘haunted house’ shtick which is as refreshing as it is entertaining.

Scott Stewart writes and directs Dark Skies, a film about aliens! Beginning with a thought-provoking Arthur C. Clarke quote which basically tells you exactly who the antagonists are going to be, the film focuses on a stereotypically charming upper middle-class American family. Knee-deep in mortgage arrears and with fluctuating employment, Daniel (Josh Hamilton) and Lucy (Keri Russell) face further problems when things start to go bump in the night. They soon realise that they are not alone as kitchens are tarnished, bodies are branded and seizure-like episodes are experienced. But what on Earth could they want, on Earth?

Am I the only one who’s sick of haunted houses at this stage? Not including the aforementioned examples, recent horror movies such as The Woman in Black and Mama have all revolved around the concept of ghosts pulling hair, ruining the furniture and generally inconveniencing previously content households. However, while similar tropes are exploited (nightmares, doors randomly ajar etc.), the mere premise of aliens laying siege to a suburban house is an interesting twist on a tired formula. Without giving anything away, Dark Skies goes in some inventive directions that would have vastly improved previous efforts.

Aside from the various tricks it plays with the established ‘haunted house’ premise, what really sets this film apart is the acting. Both adult leads, Russell and Hamilton, rise above the traditional blank slates: they have backstories, and display more than the usual singular emotion of terror. The kids likewise aren’t mere targets, and both the innocent toddler and the snotty teen are convincing in their archetypes. Without dwelling on the background information, what’s there is relevant, and allows us to actually empathise with the characters; an annoyingly uncommon phenomenon of the genre.

Of course, Dark Skies is far from perfect. Several side characters are introduced and not really expanded upon, and for much of the film I naively thought that director Steward would avoid resorting to those tiresome security cameras, but lo and behold! Installation occurs about halfway through. Although the movie commits the cardinal sin of horror by not actually being particularly frightening (identifying the threat in the first very first frame relinquishes much of the tension), it never ceases to be entertaining; at no point was I bored throughout the ninety-five minutes.

A concise, intelligent yet defiantly traditional horror flick, Dark Skies functions as both unsettling cinema and as an engrossing story. Although one may find metaphorical insight if one digs deeply enough (an allegory for families under strain in a wounded economy?), Dark Skies should be enjoyed for what it is: an intense chiller about things that go bump in the night.

Simon says: the best widely-released horror film in a while, though its competition isn’t impressive. Worth a look!

[Originally written for The Student Standard]

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