“Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” Dark Skies cryptically begins its mostly slow, occasionally frightening journey into the unknown with this quote by renowned science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. Although the movie is sometimes scary, has a pretty cool ending, and features a great scene with the always-enjoyable J.K. Simmons, its painfully slow pace throughout makes the 97-minute runtime feel closer to two-and-a-half hours.
When we think of alien invasions, we generally think of giant explosions, people running for their lives, and Earth at the forefront of an apocalyptic showdown with an impossibly intelligent race (the above mentioned scene with J.K. Simmons touches upon this, in fact). This film is actually a breath of fresh air, as it focuses on one family as they realize that they may be the target of an alien invasion.
Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton star as Lacy and Daniel Barrett, a husband and wife and parents to 13-year-old Jesse and youngest Sam (played well by Dakota Goyo and Kaden Rockett, respectively) having marital issues that are amplified by some weird things that start happening. Early on, the film actually feels a bit like Poltergeist (only with aliens instead of ghosts), as some strange, but seemingly harmless, things start happening around their house. A locked door keeps opening in the middle of the night, some kitchen items are mysteriously stacked on top of each other to form a message, and several pictures go missing from their frames. Unlike Poltergeist, Dark Skies takes a bit too much time getting to the point. It meanders along and fails to build upon each event before it, and when we finally get to the ending, it seems that it was hardly worth the wait.
The film does, on the other hand, do a great job at making it feel realistic. The performances are subtle and layered throughout, and the production design and cinematography add to the feeling of the film. Despite the film being slow, its intimacy is what makes it different than the explosion-filled romps described above. The idea that the invasion is something that happened a long time ago, and the aliens have since been quietly studying us and doing experiments on a select few is what separates this film from others in its genre. There is an analogy made in the film, comparing us to mice being studied by scientists. It seems the logic the aliens use in choosing families and individuals to study has no more meaning than the logic in which a scientist chooses a mouse to study. Just because you’re chosen does not make you special. This concept is fascinating, and is perhaps not explored deeply enough in the film.
While Dark Skies occasionally walks the line of being a fascinating film about extraterrestrials not to be forgotten, it unfortunately falls flat when all is said and done. It feels like a lot of work to wade through the expository dialogue and minor inconveniences that the Barrett family faces to get to the good stuff. I mentioned the ending earlier, and although there is a twist that you may or may not see coming, it’s not satisfying enough to give the film too much resonance. See the movie if you are obsessed with aliens or you just need to get your Keri Russell fix and Netflix is no longer streaming Felicity.
Movie Review by Mike Danner