Reviewed by Patrick Cooper
Dark Skies is part domestic drama, part home invasion horror, part coming of age film, and just a little bit alien invasion thriller. It didn’t get a lot of marketing attention and seemed to drift in and out of theaters without making much noise, but hopefully it finds a greater audience on home video because it’s really a good movie. It may not push any envelopes and probably won’t have anyone sleeping with the night light on, but for what it is, it’s perfectly fine and better than a lot of the major studio horror flicks that have tarnished screens lately (*coughTheApparitioncough*).
Where Dark Skies excels is in the palpable suburban atmosphere and the family dynamic of the Barretts. Progenitors Lacy and Daniel are going through some tough times and struggling to financially keep their lives afloat. Daniel (Josh Hamilton) got canned from his architect firm and Lacy (Keri Russell) is pounding the pavement uphill at her real estate gig. As a couple, Hamilton and Russell are completely believable. Their minor squabbles over cutting corners sound like actual parents whose stress is reaching the boiling point. It’s refreshing to see a horror film that takes time to develop its characters before throwing them to the E.T.s.
Inadvertently adding to the tension is their 13-year-old son Jesse. He hangs around an older kid named Ratface who’s a real piece of work. Ratface shows Jesse bad porno and then brags about “doing all that shit” before – he’s that kinda guy. Daniel hates that his son hangs around a creepy older kid, but he’s more distracted with finding a job than doing anything fatherly about it. The younger son, Sam, is an angel. You couldn’t ask for a better son. Lately though he claims that the “sandman” has been visiting him at night. And since we all know the sandman isn’t real it’s most certainly drugs or aliens.
Against this domestic backdrop, a myriad of weird shit you’ve seen in other horror films starts happening. The kitchen utensils gets stacked, the alarm goes off in the middle of the night, and shadows appear on the video cams Daniel set up all over the house. All of these motifs have been done before, but Dark Skies does have an interesting approach to how the aliens truly mess with the Barretts.
See, the aliens aren’t really interested in kitchen utensils. That’s just an appetizer. What they really do is scoop their gross, long grey fingers into your worst fears and pull the strings. For the Barretts, who live in a well-to-do suburban neighborhood, it’s losing the illusion of stability. Teetering on the edge of financial ruin is bad enough, but the aliens are out to make the Barretts seem insane and, worst of all, abusive. This degree of manipulation doesn’t just extend to the neighbors – the aliens turn Daniel and Lacy against each other.
So not only do the aliens want to snatch your ass, they also want to severely mess with you first. They’re like sadistic high school jocks. They’re such assholes that they ruin an entire refrigerator of good food!
This welcomed innovation to the alien invasion genre is well-acted, well-crafted, and features a final reel that is absolutely insane. Honestly, the last 15 minutes or so is a whirlwind of suspense, brutal horror, and foggy silhouettes that may cause your asshole to clench something terrible. It’s a slow build up to this insanity, but it’s never boring and everything pieces together very nicely in the end. If you missed this one in theaters, definitely check it out now.
Dark Skies is presented in 1080p in 2.40:1 widescreen. The HD presentation is fantastic with crisp detail and poppy bright colors balanced against deep shadows. The 5.1 lossless soundtrack is great too, particularly during the finale when the sounds alone can grip the audience.
Alternate and Deleted Scenes (15 min): these feature optional commentary from writer/director Scott Stewart and editor Pete Gvozdas.
Audio Commentary with Scott Stewart, Peter Gvozdas, producer Jason Blum, and executive producer Brian Kavanaugh-Jones: The boys deliver an insightful and entertaining commentary. They reveal that the original idea was a found footage approach – THANK YOU for not rolling with that. They also cover your basic stuff like writing, shooting, and technical aspects.