‘Dark Skies’ Review: Scott Stewart Improves A Schlocky Formula
The rather ordinary Barrett family – a man, his wife, and their two sons – lives in the suburbs. Friends come over for dinner. Sam, the youngest son, wants to nurse a reptile back to life. Jesse, the older son, simply wants to kiss a girl for the first time. Lacy and Daniel struggle to make their payments, and their relationship suffers as a result.
It’s all normal until strange things happen at night: the house refrigerator is violently raided (it’s stranger than you might think), photos disappear from their frames in an instant, and household items stack on a kitchen table with a strange light pattern forming above them. These strange events disrupt the rather normal routines of the Barrett family (for obvious reasons).
Dark Skies, an oddly worthwhile effort if not one that stumbles along the way, accounts for how the Barrett family deals with their peculiar circumstances, how they go from fitting into their community to being almost shunned by them.
It comes as a major surprise that the primary creative force of Dark Skies is none other than Scott Stewart, who helmed the schlocky time-and money-waster Legion. He dials down the style that made that already-silly film about the biblical Apocalypse even more laughable. Instead of bombarding the audience with uncountable jump scares, he opts to show the day-to-day routines of hardly a functional family. Of course, Stewart works those frightful moments into the framework, but he does so in a way that feels sensible and pragmatic, one that wholly serves the narrative.
Capably leading the picture is Keri Russell. Even when Dark Skies threatens to lose itself in silly antics typical of films with paranormal themes, the actress throws herself into the role of mother Lacy without abandon. It’s not quite Waitress, but Russell fits into the sci-fi framework rather well. Equally of note is J.K. Simmons, who impresses with his serious demeanor as a paranormal specialist. Dakota Goyo does well as Jesse, but it’s Kadan Rockett who delivers the stronger performance as Sam. Josh Hamilton isn’t too shabby either as the father, Daniel.
Dark Skies comes with some baggage despite a good ensemble and Stewart dialing his tones down a few notches. While the film succeeds in building tension, these scares come from a place of (over) familiarity even during its most heightened moments of suspense. A scary figure looming behind a character might be a cause to jump, but it’s nothing new. On the flip side, Stewart spends a little more time on some characters than necessary, particularly the older son Jesse. What the film reveals about the character becomes crucial to the plot as it unfolds, but so much time spent with him becomes superfluous.
One could also argue Dark Skies threatens inane didacticism about the importance of family, but Stewart's circumvents avoids that problem with an ending that will leave you stunned (even if certain details come to light more obviously than they should earlier in the film).
Dark Skies made back its budget in just two days, but it still pulled in less than expected. Its ending suggests a sequel, but such a continuation of this story likely won’t see the light of day without a built-in fan base. Seeing more of the Barrett family’s dealings with the Greys could make for a film that’s as fascinating as its flawed predecessor, but perhaps it’s better that this family doesn’t overstay its welcome (here’s looking at you, Paranormal Activity).