04th Apr2013

‘Dark Skies’ Review

by Ian Loring

Stars: Keri Russell, Jake Brennan, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo, Kadan Rockett, J.K. Simmons, L.J. Benet, Myndy Crist, Annie Thurman, Ron Ostrow | Written and Directed by Scott Stewart

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Modern horror is a little light on big names but one who should certainly be bigger is Jason Blum. He’s not exactly a household name but a man who almost single-handed seems to be responsible for virtually all the theatrically released horror content of the last few years, a man who can count the Paranormal Activity films, the Insidious (soon to be) franchise, last year’s well received Sinister and even Barry Levinson’s eco-horror The Bay among his successes. While not all of his films hit (the forthcoming Lords of Salem appears to have attained anti-buzz for instance), he still seems to be a man who takes horror seriously and seems to see it as much as a legitimate genre as he does a financially prudent area to tackle. His latest “Blumhouse” production, Dark Skies, may not be sold specifically on his name but the UK marketing makes it very clear that the film is from the man behind Paranormal Activity and Insidious.

It’s also worth noting that Dark Skies is written and directed by Scott Stewart, the man behind one of the most rancid films of the last few years, Legion, and also the forgettable actioner Priest. That Dark Skies is his best film is a bit of a back-handed compliment for sure but by moving genre and perhaps with Blum’s influence, his made a throwaway but perfectly watchable effort which tries to do something interesting with a traditional horror premise, a family are tormented by evil forces who invade their home, but twists it with the simple addition of aliens.

This sounds rather banal on paper but up on-screen this aspect provides probably Dark Skies‘ best elements. Stewart crafts these alien visitations with a great deal of filmmaking style, helped by some wonderful sound design as the silence of a quiet house is distorted by mysterious sounds which could be many different things, Stewart letting you think on much of this instead of showing you. The aliens themselves make few on-screen appearances and when they do, they’re fleeting but their effects on the family also work well though in my screening there was some laughter at some of the faces the actors are forced to pull at points, aiming for chilly, kinda striking as silly instead.

Dark Skies also takes some cues from some of Blum’s other work and this is certainly where his presence is felt. The Paranormal Activity a-like nature of having normal people do off, out-of-character things is certainly used well with many examples of people doing things in their sleep almost feeling like a homage, while the idea of alienating members of the family also seen in some respects in Sinister craft some surface psychological tension, Josh Hamilton’s father character particularly bearing the brunt of this, though he is not quite a strong enough actor to really get his teeth into this aspect among all the shenanigans happening within his home.

All of this though is somewhat negated by a few other aspects to the film. While the slow-burn of the first act is decent enough, the film’s pace is rather all over the place, the 2nd act really ramping things up before an exposition laden stretch also involving a thankless JK Simmons at the start of the 3rd only succeeds in killing the tension. An ill-advised turn late on where what’s happening is called into question is also ill-advised, the film suddenly deciding to focus on one character and hampering an interesting siege-movie feel at this stage.

Dark Skies is a serviceable enough 97 minutes but is a film which feels like it would be perfectly at home on Netflix in a year or so’s time. It’s not a black mark against Jason Blum, and does give me a little hope that Scott Stewart has something decent in him but it is a rather middling effort in all.

****** 6/10

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