Dark Skies is a 2013 alien (they come to us) film directed by Scott Stewart and produced by Jason Blum. This is a movie that we feel flies under the radar a bit and have been waiting to get into the rotation to give its proper due. How do we feel about it overall? Voyage on into the dangerous, spoilery review zone to find out. Or if you hate reading but have somehow gotten here, you can listen to our take instead on the podcast. The choice is yours.
Reviewed by: Jake
The Barrett family, led by mother Lacy (Keri Russell) and papa Daniel (Josh Hamilton) live the american way. They’re struggling financially with Daniel out of work and Lacy struggling to sell homes. It isn’t mentioned that it’s the recession but this was totally meant to be in the recession (#fantheories). When their youngest son (Kadan Rockett) starts to act weird and their home seems to either have some infestation of geometrically savvy rodents or ghosts, they start to fall apart at the seams.
The more they learn about whats happening at their house, the more Lacy begins to suspect there is something paranormal afoot. Daniel remains staunchly opposed to any/all ideas other than son acting up in a big way. However, as the evidence begins to stack up, they begin struggling to understand what is happening. Birds are committing mass suicide into their house, their dining room is rearranged into a system of reflections that look like celestial objects, various members of the family randomly enter fugue states. Not normal shit.
It takes a preposterous amount of time, but they finally land on aliens being the likely culprit and consult the assistance of someone who knows way more about the “grays” than they do. That man is J.K. Simmons… err, some guy named Edwin. He explains to them that this contact has likely been happening for a very long time and that it is so pronounced because the grays are close to making their move on one of the kids. That sounded terrible, my apologies. Extraterrestrial abduction is what we’re talking about here. He informs them that the most common abductee is the first member of the family the aliens made contact with. The Barretts aim to stick to stick together and not let those alien fucks separate them to complete their abduction but it quickly becomes apparent they are over-matched during a siege sequence that feels a lot like it was taken straight outta Signs.
In a twist ending, we discover that the older son, Jesse (Dakota Goyo) is the real abduction target and he gets taken away. Months later, Lacy is going through some of his old things and finds some drawings from when he was very young indicating that he had been receiving visits from the aliens for the better part of a decade. Over a walkie talkie, there’s some disturbance that sounds like him, somewhere far off in the void.
What the Movie Does Right
This movie does a pretty outstanding job of tension building and atmosphere. This family is completely helpless against an invading power and you can feel them getting fucked with throughout the course of the movie. One of my favorite things about Paranormal Activity was how you can sense the demonic presence is toying with the family. This gives a very similar vibe, only with aliens. You know the people are completely over-matched, yet the movie removes the safety netting of them being able to just leave their house. That stripping away of what would be the first and main answer to the trauma they are subjected to is crushing, and as they start to unravel and more and more happens to them, it sets the stage for a white-knuckled affair.
Additionally, I think the movie is for the most part quite well acted. This is a movie that is more heavily dependent on child performances than most, and both Goyo and Rockett deliver. Hamilton plays the skeptical role well, Simmons is Simmons which is a boon in general, and Keri Russell takes the load in her lead role and turns in a very good performance as Lacy.
Finally, I’ll mention as an addendum to the two things prime that the movie gets right that this is paced well. It seems like an obvious thing given what I mentioned about the tension and the good performances, but those benefit from a competent screenplay and good directing. Scott Steward handled both tasks for this one and he did them both well. Fun fact that Stewart directed the Christmas segment in Holidays.
What the Movie Does Wrong
Suspension of disbelief is important, but I do feel that almost any human being would jump to aliens prior to the Barrett clan. Hell, the second night where things go awry and Lacy discovers the cosmos recreated on her living room ceiling via light passing through intricately stacked household items, I’d be assuming aliens. Now, the movie does a good job of making sure you know these people can’t hide from the aliens, but it takes an insulting amount of time for them to get with the program. Additionally, when the aliens do act, you get a glimpse of how powerful they are and you realize these people never had a snowball’s chance in hell. They are incredibly overpowered.
After that, I begin to get into nitpicks very quickly with this one. There’s some relatively dicey CG at times blah bah blah… This one’s worth your time (ratings spoilers!)
Story: 6.5 - Giving this one a bit above middling because at the end of the day this is your mostly standard alien abduction tale but they do give it a bit of a twist and I really enjoy the parts that border on found footage a la Paranormal Activity.
World-Building / Immersion: 7.5 - This is an exceptionally easy movie to pay attention to. It’s well paced and ratchets up the intensity as it goes. I was quite invested and this is a second viewing where I know what’s happening.
Scare-Factor: 7.5 - Alien abduction gets me. The invasion of our home planet is one thing, but in movies where it boils it down to the personal battle (Signs being another example) really get to me.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 7.5 - Some of the CG has some jank but this is a movie that does a good job not to show too much for the most part. the effects that are in play carry it through, visually. Additionally, this movie is almost silent. That’s a bold choice and it works extremely well here.
Overall: 7 - This is an overlooked film. I rarely hear anyone mention it but it is one of the better alien abduction entries I’ve seen. Hard recommend.