Dark Skies (2013)
In an initial statement on screen, you are reminded of the old saying that we are either alone in the universe or with other life forms. Either way, it is terrifying.
Rating: Should be seen early in the day, be it in the theater or at home. After all, who wants to get the crap scared out of you late at night?
The best way to describe Dark Skies is that it is a cross between Poltergeist (1982) and the initial Paranormal Activity film (2007). Though it lacks the polish of the former while exceeding the amateurish techniques of the latter, you’re likely to be frequently peeking through your fingers as I did long before the ending.
As with Poltergeist, we are once again invited to share the life of a suburban couple with two children. Josh Hamilton plays Daniel, a husband out of work and desperately hunting for a new job to help his financially struggling family.
Keri Russell dominates the film as a loving wife who is trying to both keep her husband sane while helping her boys stay on the right track. Her family also depends on her income as a real estate broker, and she has a full-time job from morning to night by any definition.
In Poltergeist, the couple’s young daughter, named Carol Ann, was horrifyingly vacuumed through a closet into a supernatural world occupied by ghosts with unknown intentions. Here, a young boy, played by Jesse Barrett, starts to describe to his parents a person he calls the Sandman who appears in his room at night. Carol Ann and Jesse have a lot in common, and his fate leaves everyone in the theater sharing the agony of his parents.
What makes Dark Skies so effective is that the film is based largely on fear of the unknown. While you know something or someone is lurking, you suspect that these creatures consider human anxiety to be an ally.
For example, both Mr. Hamilton and Ms. Russell think that they are going insane as they try to understand why strange things occur in their home. What caused all of the food to be thrown across several floors one night? What caused all of their dishes and glasses to be balanced in a cylindrical fashion from their kitchen table? What could possibly explain why hundreds of starlings crashed into their house windows resulting in their massive death?
And while I dare not describe in any more detail the evolving plot, they find themselves reported to Children and Family Services when their children are discovered with marks branded on their bodies. You literally have parents becoming trapped in their own evolving nightmare.
Using the internet, they discover an individual who may have knowledge of what seems to be consuming their home and possibly their children. Played by the marvelous J.K. Simmons, you soon learn what is at stake and who has targeted the Barretts.
In a terrifying scene that sets the stage for the unsettling ending, the family discovers that any hope rests with them alone. Since they are already suspected of child abuse, there isn’t anyone in authority who would possibly believe them, much less come to their aid.
Poltergeist was one of the great horror films ever made, and here you will find the same angst when parents try to save their children. No, Dark Skies doesn’t quite dance in Poltergeist’s acclaimed artistic league, but you are likely to be mumbling, “Oh God, what now?” on more than one occasion.