Sky is calling

Dark Skies is good for a few goose bumps in the night

I see little green people.

I see little green people.

Dark Skies
Starring Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton. Directed by Scott Stewart. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

As Hollywood PG-13 horror entries go, Dark Skies isn’t particularly bad. Writer/director Scott Stewart (of the CGI-wankfests Legion and Priest) seems to be making his way to competency. The acting is relatively nuanced for this kind of thing, and the effects here are actually relatively efficient without being gratuitous.

However, while the premise is comparatively more novel than those of the recent glut of haunted-house and/or possession flicks, the delivery is still pretty much nothing more than a repackaging of all the tropes and themes that have defined horror over the last few years. It’s just Paranormal Activity without the found-footage approach, and with aliens substituting for poltergeists. (That’s not a spoiler, really. I mean, look at the name of the movie.)

Once again, we have the familiar dysfunctional suburban family under assault from paranormal forces. Papa Barrett (Josh Hamilton) has been unemployed for a while, and the bills are piling up. (Maybe if he shaved before going in for interviews he’d have more luck.) Mama Barrett (Keri Russell) covers what she can by trying to sell suspect realty in a depressed market (and uncovers what she can and still stay PG-13). Their older boy (Dakota Goyo) is at the age where he’s beginning to experiment with drugs, fumbling at girls, and breaking and entering, while Baby Barrett is pretty much just the type of wide-eyed suspense bait we expect from this kind of thing.

After an interminable amount of character development and extended scenes of domestic squabbling, the family slowly clues into the fact that their home is the epicenter of something weird going down. Household items are found geometrically stacked in the living room, and flocks of birds Kamikaze the windows. And their neighbors are beginning to suspect that the Barretts are threatening the property (and family) values of the neighborhood.

So after about an hour of everyone being tortured by nosebleeds and blackouts and no one suggesting that maybe they should get out of the futzin’ house, Mom and Dad visit a cat-cultivatin’ fringe dweller (J.K. Simmons) for some exposition on alien conspiracy theories and things begin to pick up. The last half hour is actually pretty compelling, as the stakes are raised and the family bunkers down to fight off those pesky illegal aliens. While the jump scares are predictably set up, the film still delivers with a few goosebump moments.

However, mileage may vary with the resolution. Ambiguously tragic and unsettling, the punch line works well enough on its own while obviously setting up a sequel. While Dark Skies ultimately isn’t all that noteworthy, its characters are compelling enough that a second dip into the narrative arc holds some promise.