Sci-Horror Dark Skies opens with a quote from the brilliant science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke: “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”
In writer and director Scott Stewart’s movie we are most definitely not alone, and that fact is most definitely terrifying, especially to the Barrett family who are about to be visited from the beyond.
Living in suburbia, husband and wife Daniel (Josh Hamilton) and Lacy (Keri Russell) are having a hard time with Daniel out of work and desperate to find a job.
Their two sons, teenager Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and his younger sibling Sammy (Kadan Rockett) are seemingly unaware of the friction in the family, with the older boy more preoccupied with girls and Sammy with creepy tales of The Sandman which keep him awake at night.
Things take a turn into the unknown however when strange occurrences begin in the house late at night. From destructive break-ins, to alarms being triggered, to the crazy re-arrangement of the family’s kitchen items to display a complex mathematical pattern on the ceiling.
Although they suspect that one of the boys is responsible at first, the parents soon realise that there is something much more sinister and much more powerful going on. And as the creepy close encounters increase in regularity, danger and damage the family must seek help to understand who is coming for them and why.
The idea of aliens visiting Earth and making contact with us have popped up in books, comics, films and television since Science Fiction began as a genre, and some would say, even before that.
As human beings we are obsessed with the concept that someone or something else is out there in the giant expanse of space, and their visit to our planet has been played out in cinema many, many times over the years both positively, such as in Flight of the Navigator, Starman and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and negatively, as in Attack the Block, Predator and The Thing.
Packed with many of the traditional tropes and clichés of alien abduction movies, as seen in great examples of the genre like Altered and Fire in the Sky, Dark Skies also has a healthy dose of conspiracy theories. These are all put across by the excellent J.K. Simmons, playing a man who has previously suffered the same fate as the family.
In this way the movie follows a well trodden pattern of the extra terrestrial encounter story which is not helped by the fact that it’s set around Independence Day and many may judge it for its unoriginality. However, there is much more to it than a simple science fiction horror rehash.
Produced by Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions, the people behind Paranormal Activity and Insidious, Scott Stewart’s movie shares many similarities in style and tone, building slowly, keeping the monsters out of sight and creating a creepingly tense atmosphere of fear. This increases exponentially in line with the frightening events that the family face.
This pressure cooker pacing leaves time to craft the characters, giving the viewer much more investment in them and their terrible, seemingly uncontrollable situation.
Themes of family breakdown, teenage sexual awakening, growing up and the very modern effects of the economic crisis blend into the space visitation storyline, much as they did in E.T but this time with a much darker edge as the family is ripped apart by the experience.
On the horror side, Dark Skies delivers some truly unnerving moments such as the mass bird suicide and the possession of Lacy. But the primary driver in the audience’s fear is the concept that this could happen to them.
Exploding in an intensely frightening and action packed ending, Dark Skies keeps its dark outlook throughout, proving itself to be more of a home invasion horror than a space encounter Sci-Fi and making it well worth a watch for fans of both genres.
It’s safe to say even Arthur C. Clarke would be hoping we are all alone in the universe after witnessing the horrific alternative presented in Dark Skies.