Alien abduction, whether you’re a believer or sceptic, is a pretty scary concept. The thought of having your life, home and body invaded and altered by a far more powerful outside force that doesn’t view you as a person at all is chilling. As such, there have been more than a few films based on this concept over the years, of which Dark Skies (which has nothing to do with the cancelled before its time ‘90s TV series) is one. Sadly, the only real way this film stands out from the pack is that it’s one of the few that doesn’t try to claim it’s “based on a true story” like many others do.
The Barretts are an average middle class family, living in a good neighbourhood in a nice home. Sure, father Daniel (Josh Hamilton) is having a bit of trouble getting back into work, but no big deal. However all the family’s other problems will soon be put on hold as night after night there are signs that the home is being entered and invaded by something with a particular interest in the kids and nothing seems to stop it.
This film is indeed about alien abduction, however you may be forgiven for thinking that it’s simply another haunted house movie for most of the runtime. So many clichés and staples of the subgenre are here: things going bump in the night, the threat facing the family being very nebulous in form and intent for the bulk of the story, kids drawing creepy pictures; it’s almost a checklist. The film actually opens with a quote from Arthur C. Clarke as if to say “no, you arewatching the right film, the sci-fi stuff is coming, we promise!”.
However, when it’s not using general tropes, this film is pretty actively homaging other scare films. There’s a lot of Spielberg in here with the suburbs, family under threat and more than one scare scene straight out of Poltergeist and a few moments towards the end really similar to Close Encounters. Meanwhile, there’s a section with surveillance footage that’s very reminiscent of Paranormal Activity, one big shock scene is very much The Birds and the climax has a lot in common with Signs. This really prevents the film from gaining its own sense of identity.
Outside the homages, there’s really not a lot to this film. The family are a pretty bland bunch, with only a few decent moments of “quality time” together to get to like them, and while parents Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton are OK acting-wise, younger son Kadan Rockett is pretty bad even by child actor standards. The plot plods on at a pace that makes you feel like the “lost hours” the characters experience in the story have somehow been added to the running time with more than a few plot-threads that should have big implications introduced and simply forgotten about. There’re some good ideas in here about how this disruption to the family home is affecting them financially but there’s no real consequence of this as the characters suddenly get a lot more stuff that’ll make you go “weren’t they unable to afford this two scenes ago?” Finally, the film ends with what is clearly supposed to be a massive twist but, given the order of events, it has virtually no impact.
To the film’s credit, there are some quite good jump scares and tension building moments here and there, and the aliens on screen are pretty effective and wisely not fully revealed in poor CGI glory (so this film did learn one good lesson from Signs). Unfortunately, this doesn’t make up for how insubstantial, shallow and unambitious this all is, like the makers were trying to make the most generic “family menaced by otherworldly forces” movie possible. This isn’t a terrible film, merely an extremely average one, which may shock you on occasion but won’t give anything approaching a sleepless night.