“Dark Skies” – A horror with an identity crisis

I have to admit I am physically incapable of enjoying horror movies when there’s ca. 100 other, mostly adolescent, people around me. I don’t know, it’s just this socially awkward side of me that kicks in, because I have always found that a horror is more terrifying when there’s no-one around. Preferably I’d sit down in a dark room with headphones on my head (or in a desolate cinema if I’m lucky enough and it’s before noon) and let my imagination run freely to terrorize all my senses. The minute you add another person into the equation, the maximum terror output of a given movie gets decreased by half. Add another – it’s halved again. With a hundred people in the room – the horror is in-existent and instead of the constant feeling of threat and fear, I was only left with the occasional jump scare to fill the void. Therefore, “Dark Skies” have not gone down with me very well. Maybe, I’m going too far here. “Dark Skies” turned out not to be as exciting as I originally hoped and the ‘people factor’ I mentioned just now only piled onto it.

The reason why I thought seeing “Dark Skies” would be entertaining was two-fold. First, through the years I have been a long-standing “X-Files” fan and I have always liked a good alien-related movies, be it “Alien”, “Contact”, “The Independence Day”, “Mars Attacks”, “Invasion” or anything for that matter. I just have a soft spot for them. Secondly, I love horror movies as much as I like aliens. So, there. “Dark skies” seemed to be an attempt at a good combination of the things I have continually considered good entertainment in the cinema. Point of note: I don’t think of horror movies and the like in terms of art and don’t value them that way at all. A horror needs to be good entertainment, full stop. It needs to strike terror in my heart one way or another.

dark-skies-poster

For those who don’t know, “Dark Skies” is a story about a family of four: Daniel (Josh Hamilton) and Lacy Barrett (Keri Russell), a middle-aged couple coping with financial issues, and their two sons, really annoyingly awkward adolescent Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and Sammy (Kadan Rockett), the youngest in the pot. And so, following strictly the golden rules of horror, we observe how their lives are carefully built and described for us like a metaphorical house of cards, only to be torn to pieces by whatever the universe has in store for them. In that regard, their lives are figuratively flipped upside down when they become targets of some supernatural phenomena that appear to be visiting them, messing with their daily routine and come in contact with little Sammy. Of course, nobody seems to believe that someone keeps breaking into their house without leaving so much as a fingerprint, let alone a broken window, steal their family photos, eat their food and rearrange their kitchenware. So, the Barretts are left all alone to face a threat beyond their comprehension, which is capable of controlling their lives and minds and has, most certainly, the most sinister of intentions.

As I mentioned already, “Dark Skies” did not deliver. The idea was nicely laid out, but as many horror flicks, has quickly spun out of control and turned into a mushy over-extended episode of “The X-Files”. It’s all well when the story follows a certain pattern, because that’s what horrors have always been known for (and I think I’m going to write about it at some point in the near future). “Dark Skies” could have been so much better if they followed in the tone set in the very beginning. The film starts out almost in a spirit of “Amityville” and related ‘haunted house’ flicks, where the supernatural threat is lurking somewhere out of reach and is never spelled out, so that the viewer could be kept in the dark for as long as it is humanly possible (and it usually works, because our imagination is the best at fueling our fears). Now, in “Dark Skies” the evasive visitors, who keep prodding the protagonists with malevolent continuity, drop their cards far too quickly for my liking. Thus, the atmosphere of danger is gone, the horror is nowhere to be seen and the remainder of the film becomes a tribute to Fox Mulder.

I should have seen it coming, though. The crew behind the camera was clearly not experienced enough to handle a horror with the sensitivity it deserves. If you take a look at Scott Stewart’s resume (direction and script) you’ll immediately understand that – him being a VFX guy on so many major releases – he just had to, at some point, let his habits get the best of him and have the horror make way for CGI and related shenanigans.

 

I mean, the story is there, the acting is not that bad, however the boy who played Jesse could not have been more annoying. I’ll go even further than that; the acting is actually secondary in a horror film. If the atmosphere is right, the story is solid (and it doesn’t need to be all that fresh) and the director doesn’t have an episode of ‘look at me daddy, no hands!’ and knows his place, then the film stands a chance. Otherwise, it’s just a collection of jump scares.

In the end, “Dark Skies” will remain in my book as a failed attempt at an alien-based horror that starts off well, sets the tone, gets me scared and then follows the path of I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing sci-fi with run-of-the-mill internet detective stuff, a far too long soliloquy that explains far too much and blows the story beyond ridiculous which is topped off with a way too predictable twist that I couldn’t care less about. And that makes me a sad panda.

Rant Over.

 

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