We have seen this film many times before. This story happened to take the format of an alien invasion flick, but the concept has appeared in several forms ranging from ghost stories to serial killer flicks, and even tales of killer robots from the future. While Dark Skies was hyped as the story of a family preparing to do battle against an invasion from the stereotypical “greys,” I think there was something far more subtle, primal and terrifying going on under the surface. That is the concept of being “chosen” by an unstoppable antagonist.
Dark Skies begins as a far less entertaining riff on Poltergeist, with the Barrett family tormented by seemingly random acts of inconvenience. Their house alarm goes off unexpectedly, items from the kitchen stack themselves (lifted directly from Poltergeist), and the real eye-opener comes when hundreds of birds simultaneously crash into their office from multiple directions. However, things quickly escalate as the family begins finding themselves blacking out for hours at a time, and their youngest son begins talking about his visits from “the Sandman.”
It becomes quickly apparent to the parents, Daniel and Lacy (Josh Hamilton and Keri Russell), that their children are to play a significant role in what is to come. Their investigation leads them to Edwin Pollard (a very understated J.K. Simmons), a self-proclaimed expert on the subject who is able to prove to them that they are the subjects of an alien experiment, one in which there is minimal possibility of escape.
With nowhere to run and no realistic method of defense, it is this aspect of the film that I found the most interesting. How does one react when backed up against a wall with the enemy closing in? This is the stuff that nightmares are made of, and while this might not be the most effective film to utilize this idea, it was still a highly intriguing scenario.
I wish the filmmakers had the guts to take things just a bit further. I liked the concept of the Barretts serving as the metaphorical rats in the alien’s maze, but I wish there had been a greater exploration of the aliens actual methods and purpose. Things are kept pretty basic for the most part, and it would have been interesting to see things not necessarily from the alien perspective, but from the point of view of an Earthling forced to confront a world beyond our own. It’s slightly disappointing to witness an alien attack that utilizes our own notions of the world around us. It kept things slightly generic, and maybe a little dull.
Acting is top-notch across the board, with all four members of the Barrett family convincingly portraying the escalation of confusion and fear that they are experiencing. I was especially impressed with the performances of the children, as they never once felt like they were acting. The family feels real, and it’s a testament to the screenplay that I believed there was a shared history with this group of people. We witness the family in conflict throughout, not just as a result of the aliens, but in large part due to realistic family drama. It’s effective storytelling and sets up the supernatural angle of the film in a strong way.
As for the new Blu-Ray release, the only extras are about 15 minutes of deleted scenes, with or without commentary, and a full-length audio commentary track on the film itself. This isn’t the sort of film that really demands significant extras, as it’s a pretty low-key film. I don’t know if I’d classify the film as “terrifying,” as the blurb on the box would have you believe. However, it’s definitely engrossing and will keep you on edge throughout. This is a solid film, and one definitely worth your time.