Dark Skies, 2013.
Directed by Scott Stewart.
Starring Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, J.K. Simmons and Dakota Goyo.
A white, middle-class suburban family are terrorised by a supernatural presence.
I really liked Insidious. I’m still not entirely sure why. Maybe it was the two bumbling ghostbuster characters, or its exploration of the astral plane. Perhaps because it both started and ended with the word ‘Insidious’ in giant letters across the screen dripping blood red, like an EC horror comic from the 50s. It focused on a white, middle-class suburban family terrorised by a supernatural presence.
Sinister wasn’t as good, but still quite enjoyable. It contains one of the best lines ever written for a horror film. “We haven’t moved into another serial killer’s house, have we?” It focused on a white, middle-class suburban family terrorised by a supernatural presence.
Dark Skies is the latest offering from ‘THE PRODUCER OF INSIDIOUS AND SINISTER‘, Jason Blum, and hey, guess what, it focuses on a white, middle-class suburban family terrorised by a supernatural presence. Despite the three films all possessing different directors, there is a remarkable consistency of tone, style, look and narrative. An argument could be made for Blum being an auteur.
The major difference in this outing, however, is the nature of its ‘supernatural presence’. The film opens on a quotation from science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in this Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” We’ll be the judge of that, Clarkey boy.
With that, the movie firmly places itself in the Sci-Fi genre, although the jumps, scares and nightmarish tricks are lifted wholesale from Horror. A kid wakes up with holes where his eyes should be. The house alarm goes off in the middle of the night because all the sensors were tripped at once. Three separate flocks of migrating birds kamikaze themselves into the family home’s windows. Essentially, Dark Skies is a haunted house movie with aliens.
Three traits help elevate this from your average horror fare. Firstly, the characters are tremendously well-rounded. A lot of time is spent building the four family members, to the extent where the movie can follow each one separately later on. Second is the narrative structure, which is exactly the same as Insidious and Sinister. Family tension established. Supernatural home invasion. Driven to breaking point. Seek out the ‘Expert’ (the masterstroke of each movie, transcending the standard unexplained horror into something massive and conspiracy theory-based. It also helps that Dark Skies’ is played by J.K. Simmons). Prepare for last stand. End on horrible twist. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Finally, the movie manages to sidestep the ‘FOR CHRIST’S SAKE – EITHER JUST CALL THE POLICE OR AN EXORCIST!’ frustration by completely isolating the family from their community. That they’re having money troubles is general gossip, but when their youngest son is found with deep bruises all over his body, physical abuse is suspected. When their oldest has a fit caused by “emotional trauma,” the rumours only strengthen. You really start to buy into them being on the brink. It makes the family’s rallying together for the final third all the more poignant.
Blum is also responsible for all four of the Paranormal Activity movies thus far, and is evidently no stranger to milking a concept. Though when they’re this entertaining, it’s hard to care.