Wednesday 10 April 2013

Dark Skies Review - Is It As Bad As The Critics Say?

I initially approached 'Dark Skies' with some trepidation. I'd already seen 'Legion', which was also directed by Scott Stewart, and I thought that was horrendous so what hope did his new film have? Promotion for 'Dark Skies' emphasised that it was produced by the same company responsible for 'Sinister' and 'Insidious', so my expectations increased somewhat but I was still shocked to realise that 'Dark Skies' is actually a great little horror film which I feel has been completely overlooked by critics. I rarely get scared so I was surprised to find myself feeling pretty damn tense throughout the majority of this sci-fi horror.

The Barrett family are your everyday American family but behind the white picket fence, financial troubles are causing tension. When strange things begin to happen in their home at night, Daniel (Josh Hamilton) and Lacey (Keri Russell) initially think nothing of it as they already have their own problems to deal with. However, as things escalate, the couple realise that something dangerous and even otherworldy is breaking into their house every night and the two make every effort to protect their children from what's coming.  

Scott Stewart has obviously learnt from his past mistakes. Instead of shoving the horror right in your face to shock and surprise, much of the tension in 'Dark Skies' is built through scares that are implied or only hinted at for much of the film. The alien menace can only be seen in shadowy glimpses or for just a second at a time, which makes their presence even more horrifying. I thought that perhaps too much could be seen of the aliens towards the end however, but even this was handled more subtly than the final scenes of Shyamalan's 'Signs', which destroyed all tension with its now infamous CGI heavy ending. 

I'm not going to argue that 'Dark Skies' is the most original film you will ever see. Midnight break-ins, scary childrens drawings, cameras in every room... it's like a patchwork collection of scenes from every Blumhouse Production to date, but these magpie moments can all be forgiven when genuinely tense and scary scenes are interspersed throughout. What frightened me most was not knowing what could happen next and just like in 'Paranormal Activity', I began to anticipate and fear the night time sections, knowing that bad things were going to happen. Creepy blackouts, freaky eyes and stories about the Sandman don't even began to scratch the messed up surface of 'Dark Skies'. Seriously. There's just something so creepy about being watched or attacked when you're at your most vulnerable, lying asleep in bed.   

What sets 'Dark Skies' apart from the horrors it emulates is the suprising amount of depth given to the main characters and the relationships between them. The family's financial problems take centre stage in an effort to reflect the current climate but other dynamics are also at work here, including marital arguments, father/son friction and a teenagers first kiss. While similar family based horrors such as 'Sinister' and 'Insidious' appear to operate in a vacuum, the everyday troubles plaguing 'Dark Skies' are far more relatable due to their links with the real world. At times, I felt like I was watching a drama which had horror elements inserted in, rather than a great premise surrounded by paper thin characters. Check out this interview with the always likeable Keri Russell to hear about the depth she brought to the role of Lacey.

'Dark Skies' is certainly not a perfect film. I loved J.K. Simmons brief appearance as an alien expert but some of his exposition felt clunky and I hated that the family split up in the finale, even though they had already discussed the importance of staying together to survive. That's just a stupid horror film cliche which could have easily been avoided here. I was also confused when the father bought expensive camera equipment to monitor every room, as this seemed to fly in the face of everything we had previously learnt about the familys financial position. Maybe he had some savings stashed away for those times when aliens pop by for a visit...

Despite its flaws however, I absolutely loved 'Dark Skies'. Scott Stewarts latest is a well-made and effective horror film that makes a refreshing change from all of the crap CGI ghosts and monsters that we've become more and more numb to in recent years. I was dubious as to whether aliens could make a convincingly scary threat but 'Dark Skies' proved that it is definitely possible. Now I just can't wait to see Amanda Bynes playing Lacey in a Scary Movie 6 spoof at some point in the next few years... you know it'll happen!

So what did you think of 'Dark Skies'? Were the critics too harsh in their appraisal of the film or do you think it's as bad as people say? And if you did enjoy it, what was your favourite scene? Let me know by commenting, liking and sharing below. Thanks! 

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