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John’s Horror Corner: Dark Skies (2013)

February 28, 2013

MY CALL:  Worse than expected until you find out who made this movie. Then, it’s better than expected!  This is nothing like Signs (2002) and everything like Paranormal Activity (2007).  This should probably be re-titled Extraterrestrial Activity.  [eh, I give it a C]  IF YOU LIKE THIS WATCH:  Just watch the movies this film was trying to be; Paranormal Activity 1 & 2 and Poltergeist.

The Barrett family–Lacy (Keri Russell; FX’s The Americans), Daniel (Josh Hamilton; J. Edgar), and their two young boys–is going through a tough time.  Both self-employed parents are doing poorly, their mortgage is months past due, their older son (12-14 yrs old) is beginning to learn more about girls and has a best friend they disapprove of, and they have recently been having some issues with their home security.

Overnight, strange things–very strange things–begin happening around the house.  Household objects are stacked impossibly high (an unsubtle nod to Paranormal Activity and, by extension, Poltergeist), their alarm system goes off with no sign of a security breach, very weird sleepwalking, unvaluable things noticeably disappearing, their five year old is producing some strange artwork, kamikaze bird migrations… and the list goes on with each event seeming senselessly random and persisting without any explanation…like, at all…throughout the whole movie.

Weird, and will take forever putting all that stuff away.

Weird, and she won’t buy alien possession as an excuse to why you weren’t answering her.

Weird, and just crusty-gross!

Weird…that you boarded up your home in the ‘burbs.  Your neighbors must think you’re nuts!

Unfortunately most of the weird goings on in this movie are just that–weird things that “happen” that we happen to watch because someone shoved them into the movie.  As a whole, they don’t do anything for the movie or serve a solid purpose.  Well, okay they should have, but they were handled (i.e., directed) poorly.  While a few of these events come with eerie and/or jump-scare value, overall they were unsatisfying.

After a few calls to the police answered by some quippy accusations aimed at their children, Daniel installs six security cameras inside the house.  Again, an unsubtle nod to Paranormal Activity and, by extension, Poltergeist.  These scenes were necessary and handled realistically, but came off as equal parts sort of funny and boring.  Again, I approve of the screenwriting and disapprove of the direction.

An under-utilized J. K. Simmons role.

As their investigations lead to more questions than answers, they turn to an alien specialist (calmly underplayed by J. K. Simmons; Contraband, Young Adult) who explains their situation to them, what to do, what to expect, etcetera.  I love Simmons, but this whole down-played, one-scene segment was much less effective than the exciting introduction of a paranormal investigation team (e.g., Insidious) or a medium (e.g., The Pact) into the house for the entire third act.

Moments like this were scary, jumpy and done well.

Originally I had very high expectations for this movie.  But later, after seeing it, I learned that this movie was written and directed by Scott Stewart, the man responsible for Priest (2011; director) and Legion (2009; writer and director).  Now, being sorely disappointed with the director’s past work, I am actually very impressed.  This film was far from what I had hoped but it marks some serious development on the director’s part.

Now I’ve been ragging on this movie quite a bit.  But some major things that are often done poorly in horror were done very well here.  1) For example, like Paranormal Activity 1 & 2 and Poltergeist, I really gave a damn about the Barrett family.  I may not have been impressed with the weird events, but I was concerned about what they meant to Lacy and her sons.  2) The social reaction to crazy claims and weird events was thoughtfully approached to produce “real” reactions that worked well for the most part, especially when the parents are assessing consequences for their actions.  3) Most suspense-driven horror is exciting for a while and then crumbles when it comes to neatly ending the story.  Not the case here.  The finale was neither disappointing nor impressive, but it smacked of something…good writing!  In fact, not only was the ending thoughtful and quietly paved throughout the story, but the whole story struck me as well-written–even though I felt the execution of the “weird events” hamstrung the overall quality of the film.  Scott Stewart: great ideas, great writing, still working out the kinks as a director.

See this.  It’s not bad; it’s just that extremely similar movies have been done much better.  This makes for an entertaining watch and should make for a good, jumpy date movie on the couch.  Don’t let my critical nature scare you away from this.  The better points of the movie are hard to rave about in a review and you should see and judge it for yourself.

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  3. HORROR TRAILER TALK: The Thing goes National Geographic, non-Zombies, contemporized Werewolves, Satanic Cults, ill-fated flights and Aliens behaving badly | Movies, Films & Flix
  4. John’s Horror Corner: Alien Abduction (2014), a found footage horror that uses all the tropes but packs none of the punch. | Movies, Films & Flix
  5. John’s Horror Corner presents Strong Opinions: on the Poltergeist (2015) remake, a second opinion now that we have producer Sam Raimi and a trailer to comfort us | Movies, Films & Flix
  6. John’s Horror Corner presents: Critically comparing the Poltergeist (2015) remake to the original Poltergeist (1982) | Movies, Films & Flix
  7. John’s Horror Corner: Extraterrestrial (2014), a playful approach to gory sci-fi horror that samples a little of everything. | Movies, Films & Flix
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  9. John’s Horror Corner: Last Shift (2015), the story of a rookie cop in a haunted police station. | Movies, Films & Flix
  10. John’s Horror Corner: Holidays (2016), an excellent horror anthology with some shockingly good horror shorts. | Movies, Films & Flix
  11. John’s Horror Corner: Fire in the Sky (1993), mastering the fascinating terror of alien abduction. | Movies, Films & Flix
  12. 8 Things from Movies that just “don’t make sense”… Southpaw, Human Centipede 3, The Martian, Annabelle, Poltergeist, A Most Violent Year, It Follows, Fifty Shades of Grey | Movies, Films & Flix
  13. Bad Movie Tuesday: Xenophobia (2019), a clunky Sci-Fi anthology film about alien abduction victims and their stories. | Movies, Films & Flix
  14. John’s Horror Corner: Hell House LLC (2015), a documentary-style found footage horror about a Halloween haunted house-gone-wrong. | Movies, Films & Flix
  15. John’s Horror Corner: Jennifer’s Body (2009), the shockingly well-written, well-directed and well-acted movie where Megan Fox is a man-eating demon. | Movies, Films & Flix
  16. John’s Horror Corner: The McPherson Tape (1989; aka UFO Abduction), a very early found footage film about alien abduction that paved the way for Signs (2002). | Movies, Films & Flix

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