Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dark Skies - Signs meets Poltergiest

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The movie opens with shots of ideal, suburban America. There we meet the Barrett family. While blessed with great friends, a big house, and strong family bonds, there is tension under the surface. The husband Daniel was laid off awhile ago, forcing his wife Lacey to work as a realtor. While their youngest son Sam is still in the innocents of youth, their teenage son Jesse has fallen into a sketchy group of kids.

Over the course of a few weeks strange things start happening. A door opens, Janga towers are made with cutlery, photo's disappear, and Sam is seeing people in his dreams. All the while tension builds between Daniel and Lacey. Then things get kicked up a notch. Hundreds of birds ram the house, family members walk around in catatonic states, Lacey sees a person in Sam's room, and the security monitors show something coming into the house.

Lacey does some Internet research and finds conspiracy theories related to aliens. Daniel is skeptical until both their children develop brand marks on their skin. Daniel and Lacey go to see the alien expert. The expert tells them that "the Greys" are scientists and their family is the test subject. The family member they first made contact with is likely victim they will abduct.

Daniel and Lacey decided to fight. Armed with guns, attack dogs, and barricades, they prepare for the final stand. In the attack Jesse becomes possessed and wanders away from the family and is taken by the aliens.

Three months later, the Barrett family has taken up residence in a city apartment and begin a new life as alien trackers. In some boxes of Jesse's childhood artwork we find drawings of him with the Greys, implying that Jesse had been the family member of initial contact all along. 

The Good, the Bad, and the Gorey
The Good
The lion's share of the cinematography in this film was done by David Boyd. Boyd showed us his great visual work in The Walking Dead series and he brought that same skill to Dark Skies. I enjoyed the framing of this movie. Characters were shown in rich surroundings and a variety of environments  From the chaotic community pool to the cluttered alien expert's apartment, all the scenes feel very real. Using lighting, zooming, tracking and viewing angels, Dark Skies makes you see what it wants you to see. You are compelled to look in just the right spot, and that is the spot they scare you from. Overall it a visual beauty.

The Scares
I almost didn't include this under "the Good" because of the clique-ness of the scares in this movie. Almost all the scares are of the jump-up-at-ya variety or the turn-the-corner-and-see-scary-thing variety. They employ the classic Halloween/Mike Myers scare of the villain/alien standing still, unmoving behind their victim  There is even the Silence of the Lambs scare of taking the villain's view behind the victim as it reaches out almost touching. All rather basic, and rather predictable right?

But all that being said, this movie still made me jump and gave me goosebumps. I'll mention it again. The cinematography really helped Dark Skies to deliver its scares properly. I also came to the realization that tall, skinny, long limb monster must freak me out (It would explain why Dog Soldiers and Slender Man always scared me). "The Greys" in this movie are classic grey sticks with big heads and long arms and just seeing them looming over someone made me shiver. While maybe the scares in this movie less than innovative, they still get the job done.

The Bad
The Script
Director Scott Stewart is also the writer of Dark Skies. Stewart had some previous writing experience and directed Priest and Legion, but in my opinion he still needs a little experience yet. Ask horror movie fan and they will tell you this idea has been done already. I mean, if you took Poltergeist and mashed it with Signs, throw in a sprinkle of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and you would end up with this movie. We get a cornucopia of classic horror elements. The young child dreaming and drawing pictures of the monster, the skeptical cop explaining away the phenomena, the bickering couple on different levels of acceptance of the monster, the confused scientist, the crazy conspiracy theory expert, and the final twist at the end. I know this was a chance of Scott Stewart to stretch his legs away from the action horror genre, but he isn't getting any points for originality from me.

And on top of that a lot of the dialogue is weak. The emotional conflict between Daniel and Lacey is established in these big fights about the stupidest things. "He didn't tell me he was completely optimistic about a job interview!" "She didn't tell me that our kid had a nightmare!" Really? And the happy family having burgers with friends just lays on the cheese with clique back and forth.

The Acting
It's hard to act your way out of a bad script, but most of the actors do a decent job. I just want to say I was disappointed with Daniel (Josh Hamilton). The whole time I was watching him, he never came off as natural. I wouldn't say it's over acting as much as a failure to be realistic.

The Gorey
There is none. A couple dead birds is about as good as you are going to get. I actually like that aspect. It's hard to get my Mormon friends to watch horror movies because most all of them are rated R. It's nice to have a PG-13 film that will still deliver some decent scares.

Dark Skies follows the Barrett family as it experiences strange and disturbing phenomena in their own home. As things get worse and worse it becomes clear that an outside forces threatens their family.

Dark Skies is great for one who dabbles in the horror genre. It is visually appealing  it has family, good jump-at-ya scares, and no gore/violence for the queasy stomach. They will enjoy the growing suspense and development of the plot. A great pick for them.

Dark Skies is a terrible movie for those who love horror. Scott Stewart brought us a story that we have already seen, with a villain that we have already seen, with scares we know very well. While it looks good and has a good creepy factor, I  would say skip this one. There are plenty of unseen horror movies to for you to watch. Don't waste time on one you've already seen.

Final Grade: D



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