With all of the excitement of Oscar Sunday going on, it’s hardly a surprise that the only two new releases this weekend were barely on anyone’s radar. One of those two is Dark Skies, a lightly-marketed supernatural horror from The Weinstein Company and a close tie for the least enticing movie of the season for me (tied with Bullet to the Head). As some of you may recall, I’ve been pretty vocal in my dislike of the horror genre. Once again, this isn’t to say that I don’t think horror movies can be good, I simply don’t like the experience of being scared. What I do try to look for in Horror movies is how effective the movie is at actually achieving scares from the audience, along with the usual qualifiers of writing, plot, etc. While it definitely nails it in the fright department, Dark Skies is a cliche-ridden and poorly acted imitation of similar abduction movies like Signs.
As the Barret family’s peaceful suburban life is rocked by an escalating series of disturbing events, they come to learn that a terrifying and deadly force is after them.
With its suburban setting and its focus on a struggling middle class family, Dark Skies really feels like it’s trying to fit into a niche of recession-era horror. The problem with this is it introduces another more real source of conflict for the audience to focus on, and horror movies function the best when they are at their simplest. Imagine Jaws if a good chunk of the movie focused on Roy Scheider’s son dealing with bullying at school, or Alien if Ripley spent half the movie dealing with her captain sexually harassing her. The real limit of character development in a horror movie should be just above the amount it takes to make the audience give a crap when the characters are threatened. Anything above that is generally more of a distraction than anything else.
There’s also a “big reveal” at the end which is about as obvious as it is unexplained. If you have a big twist ending complete with flashbacks to things the characters had said before in the movie, you had better make it a little surprising. At the very least have it make some sort of retroactive impact on the movie (He was dead the whole time, Gwyneth Paltrow was actually obese, etc.). Maybe I was missing something, but I really don’t think so. Please let me know if I am though, this is coming from a person who had to have the ending of The Sixth Sense explained to him (though to be fair I was, you know, eight…).
As I said, the movie definitely knows how to raise the hair on the back of your neck. Between an effective use of broad camera pans and sound cues, I was nearly as anxious during Dark Skies as I was for Mama earlier this month (Though I maintain that the latter was the scarier film overall). The aliens are pretty typical-looking, but their physical appearance is used sparingly enough so that they still make you jump whenever they appear on screen.
My only complaint in the scares department is that I felt like the acting ruined many of the “posessions” scares the movie was going for. The closest it gets is Dakota Goyo’s eye-contorting fit in the woods, but even that only lasts a few seconds and is more disturbing than scary. Maybe it was just me, but it never felt convincing whenever the family members regained consciousness. The exact line “How did I get [here]?” is used on three separate occasions without any sort of exasperation or fear behind it.
The Verdict: 4.5/10 - Sub-Par
+ Very effective at generating scares
+ Dialogue/Character development is on par with horror standards
- J.K. Simmons doesn’t even come on until the movie’s almost over
- Could they have targeted a more cliche middle-class family for abduction?
Rotten Tomatoes: 36%
Fast Film Reviews: 3/5