Lacy and Daniel are the Barretts, a married couple with two boys, Jesse a teen, and Sam their youngest. Father Daniel has lost his job and is trying to find employment. Mother Lacy is a real estate agent desperately attempting to sell houses in disrepair as fixer-uppers. Jesse hangs out with an older boy they deem to be a bad influence and little Sam is experiencing sleepwalking fits. Then strange things begin happening. Someone starts sculpturally stacking food in the kitchen, family photographs vanish from their frames, false alarm sensors are tripped throughout their home at the same time. Apparently mounting stress and piling bills are the least of their problems. PG-13 presentation mines the territory of a suburban nightmare.
At first when I heard the ads marketing Dark Skies as from the producers of Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and Sinister, I rolled my eyes. Yeah those were good movies, but the writer and/or director is a more accurate indicator of quality. Scott Stewart also wrote and directed the execrable Legion so I wasn’t optimistic. The thing is, Dark Skies is indeed closer in spirit to those horror pictures than to that apocalyptic action film. Admittedly, this doesn’t break new ground. Despite the fact it has nothing to do with ghosts, anyone who had seen Poltergeist will feel this is awfully familiar. It’s a fairly rote horror story, but there are some twists. The narrative interestingly exploits the idea that the parents are being made to look unfit due to the escalating afflictions the family publicly endures.
The cast is solid. Acting in horror can be difficult because the circumstances can be a bit ludicrous. Josh Hamilton is a sympathetic father. He’s likeable. Slightly less warm, but more sensible is Keri Russell as the mom who puts the pieces together as to what’s occurring well before her husband. A horror cliché is the character who has already figured everything out, but must now convince those who will not listen or believe – deliberately adding to the audience’s frustrations. Though I question whether Russell appropriately conveys the fear the average mother would exhibit. Hearing that her youngest is having conversations with someone who visits him at night should’ve prompted more panic. Oh and I almost forgot to mention a memorable cameo by J.K. Simmons who plays Tangina er uh I mean Edwin Pollard, the resident expert on supernatural phenomena.
Dark Skies isn’t innovative, but thankfully it sidesteps tired genre conventions at least. The blood/gore factor is virtually non-existent. The lazy technique relying on loud bursts of noise to cause jump scares, is kept to a minimum. Even the “Gotcha! It was all a dream” gag is intelligently toyed with in an early scene. The script seems aware of overused plot devices. It’s extremely spooky in parts. Furthermore, it never shows more than it should, so the threat always feels mysterious. No this isn’t original, but it manages to create a pretty evocative mood. What it lacks in creativity, it makes up for in creepiness.