Writer and director Scott Stewart makes, for our money, a bit of a misstep with his opening title card for the sporadically interesting Dark Skies. For he chooses to preface his movie with a quote that instantly melts away some of the ambiguity that really could have helped his film. As such, when revelations start to happen as Dark Skies enters its final third, it’s only really a surprise for those who walked in a little bit late, or who were chuntering through the opening credits.
The basic set-up we’ve seen many times before. We’re introduced to an everyday family, battling money troubles and trying to make ends meet. It’s the lack of cash that fuels much of what the characters do, which lends Dark Skies an instant believability.
Keri Russell, excellent, plays Lacy, with Josh Hamilton stepping into the role of her job-hunting husband, Josh. They have two kids, a decent house, and all manner of problems, when things start getting just a little spooky around their home.
This is all effectively set up, and Stewart clearly has the knack of the slow build. He’s got a low budget, certainly, but he ably makes the most of the house where much of the film is set, and while there’s always a sense of the familiar in what he’s doing, as it puts its pieces together, there’s a lot to like about Dark Skies.
What Scott Stewart also has the knack of is injecting references to other movies. He’s clearly a fan of lots of horror films. So much so that he doesn’t so much tip his hat to them, as invite them round for beers and a curry. You can pretty much check them off as you watch the film, from Poltergeist and Paranormal Activity through to the work of Hitchcock and Kubrick. It’s not exactly subtle, and it becomes a distracting problem when he simply won’t stop doing it. Fun? Yes. Undermining the story he wants to tell? Sadly, that’s the case too.
What’s more, as it heads into the second half, Dark Skies really starts to drag. For a 97 minute film, it feels an awful lot longer than that. The reason? It doesn’t help that it doesn’t withhold its key surprise. Also, when the cat is officially let out of the bag, there aren’t too many other places it can go, yet Stewart tries to spin a few different ways to sustain interest. But it feels like a soft drink that the fizz has ultimately left.
There are bright sparks. There’s a very welcome, wonderfully resigned cameo appearance from J K Simmons, and some of the effects work is well done. We never felt the jumps that Stewart peppers in, but one or two people we’ve spoken to found them far more successful. You might too.
Sadly, though, with Dark Skies, it’s not just a case of seen it all before. For much of its tale, we’ve seen it all recently as well, in spire of the film’s efforts to throw in one or two subversions. A couple of sparks, then, but Dark Skies ultimately never catches light. Keri Russell really is excellent, though.
Dark Skies is out in UK cinemas now.
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