Extraterrestrials find their way back to the big screen in “Dark Skies,” a movie that details a suburban family’s struggle to stay alive and together against the invasive forces of aliens.
Directed by Scott Stewart (“Priest”), this science fiction horror film opens with an exploration of character relationships within the Barrett family who are the central characters. The audience quickly learns that patriarch Daniel (Josh Hamilton, “The Letter”) has been unemployed for some time and the family is struggling financially as a result, which sparks tension between him and his wife, Lacy (Keri Russell, “Waitress”) throughout the film. More is learned about the family dynamics through dialogue, particularly when Daniel states his distrust for his oldest son Jesse’s (Dakota Goyo, “Real Steel”) friends.
Aside from the irrelevant family troubles, the Barrett family begins experiencing strange occurrences throughout the house. It starts with a strange array of kitchen utensils and other culinary tools forming a peculiar shadow on the ceiling, which Daniel and Lacy later learn is an alien symbol marking the house for a potential abduction. The family’s fears escalate when pictures go missing from their frames and when their home’s security device malfunctions without any explanation, despite thorough investigation. In addition to these strange events, birds fly into the family’s home and the two Barrett children develop mysterious bruises and scars all over their bodies.
After Daniel has affirmed Lacy’s suspicions of alien activity, they meet with an expert on the strange happenings. Edwin Pollard (J.K. Simmons, “Juno”) informs the pair about the frequency of these random events all over the country. In most alien films, the central characters typically fear the inevitable invasion of Earth, but Pollard explains to Daniel and Lacy that the invasion has already happened and that they need to prepare to fight back against the aliens, who are set on abducting a member of the family.
In a lame connection to the aforementioned family troubles, this bit of advice is meant to bring the family closer while still battling against the extraterrestrial forces invading their home. This element of the plot is barely explored, which may be irritating to some more attentive viewers who paid attention to the unnecessary family turmoil. Perhaps the issues mentioned throughout the movie were a simple, quick way to attempt to create stronger character development, although this tactic failed because the family dynamics were not the core of the story.
Despite the film’s shortcomings in character development, the acting is better than most recent horror or science fiction films that have hit cinemas nationwide. Considering Russell’s resume, it comes as no surprise to see that her acting abilities carry the movie and make up for the lack of refined skills on the part of the child actors. Though their performances are not poor, their roles do not deeply impact the plot. There seems to be a lot of untouched potential for each character to blossom into a stronger presence in the film. Russell’s performance is the central vessel for connecting with the audience and evoking emotion regarding their circumstances as a family.
Given the genre of the film, it seems like an inevitable step in the plot’s progression to reveal the aliens to the audience. Though groundbreaking extraterrestrial films such as Ridley Scott’s “Alien” kept the appearance of the aliens largely under wraps for much of the film, the mysterious space creatures in “Dark Skies” are barely revealed at all. The audience never gets to see what the aliens look like in detail, although the general shape and color are revealed. While this directorial choice could work in some instances, it just seems to be another shortcoming. If refusing to completely unveil the aliens to the audience had created further suspense in the film, it would have worked in the film’s favor.
The movie ends with a slightly unexpected twist, followed by scenes from earlier in the film foreshadowing that event. Though the ending is somewhat anticlimactic, it provides the audience with a relative payoff and could be interpreted as welcoming a sequel.
For science fiction and horror buffs, “Dark Skies” will just barely satisfy your appetite. There is nothing surprising or shocking in the film, but it appeals to the fears and curiosities about the possibility of life on other planets and their relationship to Earth. For moviegoers looking for a mediocre thrill on a quiet Saturday night, “Dark Skies” will fit the bill. Though the plot could have created a creepy cinematic experience, it falls short of its potential to be a captivating sci-fi flick.