Dark Skies (2013)
Dark Skies is the epitome of winter mediocrity. Effectively described as "Insidious meets Fire in the Sky", it takes a very long time to get going, often to its detriment. Now, I like a good slow burn horror movie -- Carrie is one of my favorite movies of all time, and Let the Right One In and its American remake, Let Me In, are among the best vampire movies of the last few decades in my book even with their slow pace. (And I can guarantee that my next review is gonna be a film that does "slow-burn horror" right.) However, what this film seems to forget is that, if you want to take your time getting to the real meat, you wanna spend that time getting the audience invested in your characters while slowly building an atmosphere of dread. Dark Skies, despite able performances from its lead cast and a third act that soars once it finally gets moving, fails to do that, spending its first half adrift.
Most of this film's biggest problems can be traced back to its writer/director, visual effects artist Scott Stewart. Storytelling is not Stewart's strong suit, as evidenced by his last two films, the action-horror duds Legion and Priest, both of them characterized less by memorable characters and more by CGI action set-pieces. Slowing down and doing a pure horror film in the style of Paranormal Activity or Insidious should've forced him to spend more time on the script, but between this and the aforementioned Legion and Priest, it's clear that Stewart should stick to directing other people's screenplays. J.K. Simmons' character only shows up on one scene to provide a huge infodump to the protagonists, and most of it is just restating what the characters had already learned earlier in the film; he could've been dropped entirely and the film wouldn't have suffered in the least. The parents' money problems and the teenage son's troubling friendships never really played into the story, existing largely as fluff to pad the film's length. One scene -- which was featured in the trailer, of all places -- where Keri Russell's character is knocking her head against a window actually had me laughing out loud. It was meant to be a scary moment, and it fell completely flat.
I could go on, but to do so would be to ignore the parts of the film that actually work. As stated, once the film starts finally moving in its third act, it becomes the film that it should've been for the past hour. I was able to ignore the logical inconsistency of the family boarding up their doors and windows when it's been established that the aliens can travel through walls, because once this movie finally gets rolling, it doesn't let up. What Stewart lacks in storytelling, he makes up for in style. The aliens are wisely kept to the shadows for much of the film, existing mostly as dark shapes in dark rooms. It's in these moments where the "less is more" approach actually works rather than falling on its ass. Lastly, even when the script is jumping the rails, the actors, led by Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, and Dakota Goyo, all pull through solidly and help to sell the material.
Score: 2 out of 5
I had to flip a coin to decide whether to give this a 2 or a 3. In the end, I'd argue that it's worth a matinee or a rental if you have nothing better to do, but otherwise, throw in Insidious or Fire in the Sky instead.