Dark Skies

Despite being virtually interchangeable with hauntings, alien abductions are a relatively rare device for a horror film. Aliens can cause scary noises, weird object stacking, vanishings, and just about anything poltergeists can cause. So why not use them more often?

My guess is, in part, that there’s no plausible escape from aliens. If a house is haunted, you leave the house. If you’re possessed, you have and exorcism. Monsters can be slain and demons banished.

If the aliens are out to abduct you, though? You’re well and truly boned. All of the same technology that allows them to do the haunted-house stuff virtually excludes any rationale by which you can escape them.

Not that Dark Skies doesn’t come up with an acceptable hook to give a glimmer of hope.

Dark Skies is the latest movie from VFX stalwart Scott Stewart, and pretty clearly his best work (excluding, perhaps the new Sci-Fi series Defiance). But his previous two films (Legion and Priest) were just awful, bad enough to where any talent in direction might have been swamped.

This is very competently directed, with genuine suspense and good characterization, with some competent misdirection and a few staggeringly bad choices avoided. I got a few chills; it wasn’t so much a rapid-fire shock machine, but that’s okay.

It establishes early on that aliens are the culprit. None of this “is it or isn’t it?” crap. Although it sets up the premise that the aliens can control what their victims can experience, this is used sparingly, not in a “or did I dream it?” style. In fact, a few situations where you think that might have happened are quickly dispelled: That awful thing you thought you dreamed was real.

The Boy liked it, though I think I liked it more. On the way home, I described Whitley Streiber’s Communion to him and he said that was scarier than the movie, which is hard to argue with. The creators of Dark Skies did their homework, though, so if you’re familiar with the phenomenon, the movie is probably going to be more effective.

Good acting from Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton, but Hamilton’s character actually crystallized a major gripe I have with horror movies. Hamilton plays the skeptical father looking for non-alien answers to his problems, which becomes a significant plot point when he ends up assaulting a neighborhood kid whom he blames.

The thing is, skepticism is believable. Even skepticism in the face of what should be overwhelming evidence. A degree of stupidity is necessary for most horror films to play out, but it’s also not necessarily a stretch: people don’t want to believe what they don’t want to believe.

However, this really only works well when there’s a good potential simple story. It’s one thing to believe that a neighborhood kid has been messing with your kid; it’s an entirely different thing to pursue that belief while ignoring: object stacking in your house, alarm system in your house going crazy, flocks of birds killing themselves flying into your house, every one in your family being remotely controlled somehow, etc.

It was annoying here. And kind of lazy, I think. People are capable of making crazy connections to keep rationalizations alive, but it’s just not plausible when they isolate one thing and ignore all the really wild, implausible stuff—the stuff that is really upsetting.

Anyway, that aside, the atmosphere, direction, acting and characterization make for an above-par fright fest.

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