Greetings from the Edge!
This week, we’ll be turning from the undead and instead be looking into the unknown with the 2013 film Dark Skies. Let’s give it a look on its fifth anniversary and see what horrors lurk in the heart of suburbia ( and I don’t just mean Trump supporters! ) Will the aliens be terrifying ( like Killer Klowns from Outer Space ) or ridiculous ( like Killer Klowns from Outer Space )? Will I root for the beleaguered family or hope that the aliens make hors d’oeuvres from the frontal lobes? Let’s take a look on the Edge!
Starring Keri Russell as Lacy Barrett, a mother trying to keeps her family safe when no one believes her, Josh Hamilton as Daniel Barrett, a father whose unwillingness to face the possibility of the unknown may break his family, Dakota Goyo as Jesse Barrett, a young man more interested in his burgeoning hormones than the weirdness besieging his family, and Kadan Rockett as Sam Barrett, a really creepy kid who may be scarier than the aliens… or maybe that’s just me.
When an unknown force begins to disrupt the life of a suburban family already under strain, will it turn out to be merely sublimated tension getting the better of them or is it, in fact, beings from outside their mundane world whose purposes are inexplicable? Now when faced with a situation that presses them to the very edges of sanity, can they pull together or will it finally shatter them forever?
I will say beginning your movie with a quote from Arthur C. Clarke can almost never go awry ( okay, maybe a talking animal flick or gross out teen comedy might be a tough fit ), but science fiction/horror, good choice!
Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.
If you want to set the tone high for your hidden aliens film, you’d be hard pressed to find a better quote to get your audience in the right mood than that. Thumbs way up for a strong beginning and for immediately classing up your film with a little reflected glory.
Well, as far as special effects and general scares, Dark Skies is working on the less is more model, and I think they pull it off pretty well. There is a bit of iffy CGI ( SPOILERS: especially when we get to see the aliens… for about two and a half seconds. )
I especially think they did the bird strike effect pretty well, some of the injuries are believably done, and I respect the fact that they resisted the lure of going over the top with those effects in such a low key film.
I also feel I have to say something about the overly aggressive soundtrack. I understand that musical stings and ambient sounds are an important part of any good horror story, but the soundtrack to Dark Skies just beats you over the head with it. At times, it was so intrusive that it completely pulled me out of the story. It served less as a counterpoint or emphasis to the action than a man in a mask jumping up in front of the screen and going, “Boogy Boogy Boo!” while waggeling his hands in my face.
Dark Skies is an attempt at a lower key take on an abduction/invasion alien film mixed with the current fad of found footage haunted house movies. In fact, it was originally going to be a found footage film early in the production.
It’s trying to disturb with implication and subtly instead of making you jump with shock scares ( although I wish someone had told that to Joseph Bishara when he was scoring the film. ) If you’ve never seen a film in one of those genres, I’d say that Dark Skies might just be something to give a look at, however it does seem to be very derivative. Now, it is borrowing from multiple genres and if you aren’t familiar with them, you might find more there than I did.
However, I’d be hard pressed to tell you one thing I found in Dark Skies that is truly original to the film. Maybe if the script meshed better with the subject matter or the score was less bludgeoning, I’d have found more in Dark Skies to enjoy, but I just didn’t.
I’m terribly sorry, my little Edgites, but I can’t really recommend Dark Skies. It’s well acted and even has a couple of pretty stand out performances, Keri Russell in particular. However, I was just kinda bored through the whole thing. It has excellent scary potential and a few good moments, but I just feel I’ve seen this all before. That mixed with all the drama of a slowly disintegrating family and marriage made for a film that was more uncomfortable and dragging than tense and suspenseful. Which is sad, because the cast was really giving it their all.
If you’re in the mood for something with aliens intruding on daily life, I’d suggest maybe giving Close Encounters of the Third Kind a try. It’s an oldie, but a goodie. Or if you’re just more interested in the suspense angle, try Poltergeist. That movie outdoes the strange forces disrupting a suburban family a thousand times better than Dark Skies… not aliens though, if that in particular is what floats your boat.
Just stay away from Signs and Mars Needs Moms for the sake of your own sanity. Although I’d love to hear your opinions on which of those two films you find is more insulting to your intelligence!
Nerdy Speculation Corner: Warning, may contain both spoilers and dangerous amounts of geekery!
Why are cops in all these hidden alien/ghost/monster films completely useless douchebags? Wouldn’t it be a bit more believable if the police at least tried to help, or at least took the characters seriously? I’d find the cops being baffled and unable to help more compelling to the story than just having a token scene of the cops showing up and going, “Nope, we’re dismissive and useless in an aggressively condescending manner,” and write them entirely out of the film. Hell, if you’re dead set on not dealing with the police in your story, come up with a good reason for them to be ambivalent, personal animosity, being part of the problem, even fear. Wouldn’t that be scarier? The cops are so terrified they just leave the protagonists to their fate out of sheer panic and fear.
Next week on the Edge, I’ll be giving an overview of the new Netflix original sci-fi series Altered Carbon, a tale of humanity in a future where death is avoidable to those with the deepest pockets and the elite have the power to shape the world to their whims. In a world where bodies are simply shells, how do you ever truly know who you are?