Daniel and Lacy Barrett are going through a rough patch. Daniel (Josh Hamilton) has been laid off, and his search for a new job isn’t going well. Lacy (Keri Russell) is doing her best to keep the family afloat with her work as a realtor, but with two young sons to provide for, there’s a strain on the marriage that seems to only be getting worse. Watching the opening scenes, I could imagine one of them wondering, “How could this possibly get worse?” That would have been a profoundly unwise question to ponder, because the universe decides to answer it by putting the Barretts in the crosshairs of some unfriendly extraterrestrials.
It starts off innocently enough, with their youngest son, Sam (the awesomely named Kadan Rockett) having bad dreams about “the Sandman” visiting him in his room, but before long things have escalated to mysterious kitchen ransackings and a close encounter of the bird kind, when three separate flocks smack into the Barretts’ house from all directions. As the strange happenings continue, Lacy becomes convinced that have been targeted by aliens, but Daniel plays the Scully and refuses to believe, even when the events have stretched well past the realm of logical explanations. As things continue to get worse, Lacy and Daniel work to figure out why this is happening to them, and more importantly, if it can possibly be stopped.
Dark Skies was written and directed by Scott Stewart, whose two best-known films — Priest and Legion — showed potential but never really came together. Dark Skies, thankfully, works better than either of them, although it does play out pretty predictably. If you’re familiar at all with alien abduction/UFO mythology, you’re going to be able to tick off the bullet points Dark Skies will hit before the end credits roll. The movie does attempt a third-act twist — complete with an annoying montage to remind you of all the clues — but if you’re paying attention even slightly, you’ll likely see it coming a mile away.
Several of the film’s producers worked on the Paranormal Activity, but thankfully Dark Skies doesn’t spend as much time building up to the action. It also doesn’t rely nearly as much on jump scares as many similar movies do, instead ratcheting up the tension and dread steadily and constantly.
The end result is a fun but not terribly memorable trot through very familiar territory, thankfully buoyed by good performances which anchor the emotional weight of a family trying desperately to protect themselves from powers far beyond their control. Especially worth noting is J.K. Simmons’ brief appearance as the “Exposition Guy,” a UFO researcher and fellow abductee who delivers the bad news to Daniel and Lacy that their family is pretty much screwed.
All in all, don’t go into Dark Skies expecting many surprises, but it’s not a bad way to spend a Friday night.
(Be sure to check out our list of the Seven Best Movies About Close Encounters!)