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March 21, 2017

Dark Skies

by Franz Patrick


Dark Skies (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Something strange is happening at the home of a suburban family. The first occurrence involves Lacy (Keri Russell) getting up in the middle of the night and discovering the refrigerator completely ransacked. It would have been easy to chalk it up to a hungry animal somehow having made its way inside the house, but when canned food and the like are stacked up to the ceiling, this theory seems unlikely. The second bizarre event involves the house alarm being tripped… on all eight trigger points. Daniel (Josh Hamilton) calls he company in charge and they claim it is likely due to a glitch. And then all of the family pictures go missing, leaving the frames completely intact and unmoved.

“Dark Skies,” written and directed by Scott Stewart, is the kind of movie you will not want to see if you are living alone or if you happen to be alone at night. Unless you are into that sort of thing, as in my case. Then it is a good time. It is creepy and curious, preferring to the take a route of a small accumulation of tension rather than in-your-face gruesome slashing and dicing.

While the film does not tread any new ground, it combines familiar tropes with good timing. The incidences almost always unfold during the night when everyone ought to be asleep. There is no score that hints at what might be coming around the corner. To establish an atmosphere of unpredictability, there is no pattern between the number of beats and scares. Furthermore, it is wise to change things up. It is not always one person waking up in the middle of the night and eventually encountering a hair-raising discovery. There are instances when the entire family is jolted from their dreams only to wake up in a living nightmare. It is an experience they are forced to go through together.

It is not without amusing moments. Out of sheer desperation, a character eventually turns to Google and self-diagnoses. Since the police are of no use, who do you turn to—really? Your neighbors? Your friends? The suburbs can be full of judgment. Any little thing, like gossip, to break the ennui is entertained to hyperbolic proportions.

The subplot involving Lacy and Daniel’s sons, Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and Sam (Kadan Rockett), are underdeveloped and melodramatic. Instead of misunderstood, Jesse only comes off as moody each time he is questioned about his choice of friends. Why not allow him to be more articulate with his thoughts and feelings? On the other hand, when Sam talks about The Sandman coming to get his eyes, we can feel the machinations of the plot turning, drawing obvious lines as if to construct an illusion that we were connecting the dots. In that way, it takes a shortcut. For a film that proves patient with its unveilings, we expect for it to be as patient with its characterizations.

The last quarter of the picture almost goes off the rails. I am not sure I liked the fact that one person seems to hold all of the answers. Even so, it feels more appropriate to have this character introduced earlier and have him be an active part of the mystery. Cutting to him sitting around and looking serious contributes nothing.

Despite its blemishes, “Dark Skies” demands that we remain curious with each peculiar phenomenon. The question is not so much as what is behind the happenings. Rather, is everything occurring as they should be?

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