MRR Review: "Dark Skies"

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A psychological thriller about a suburban couple (played by Keri Russell & Josh Hamilton) whose life become a living nightmare when a terrifying alien presence enters their home each night to prey upon their children. Increasingly isolated from skeptical friends and neighbors, the two are forced to take matters into their own hands in an effort to save their family. Written and directed by Scott Charles Stewart.
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MRR Review: "Dark Skies"

-- Rating: PG-13 (terror throughout, violence, drug content, sexual material, language)
Length: 97 minutes
Release Date: February 22, 2013
Directed by: Scott Stewart
Genre: Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

The beginning of "Dark Skies" looks like it could be a basic drama about a family that is struggling financially. Patriarch Daniel (Josh Hamilton) has lost his job and has not been able to find a new one in a rather staid financial market. Mother Lacy (Keri Russell) has a job as a real estate agent but finds it hard to sell the only house she has a listing for. They have two sons, teenager Jesse (Dakota Goyo), who is about to have his heart broken for the very first time, and Sam (Kaden Rockett), who seems somewhat oblivious to it all. The problems these four characters have alone could have filled a film, but "Dark Skies" offers much more than just family drama. It is a mix of drama, sci-fi, and horror that's as mysterious as it is spooky.

The fun starts when Lacy begins noticing that the refrigerator has been ransacked overnight. Having food disappear is fairly worrisome for a financially struggling family, but this turns out to be the least of their problems. Sam begins having strange dreams at night, which he tries really hard to deal with on his own at first. The occurrences quickly begin to get spookier, to the point that Lacy can no longer dismiss them as simple or harmless nightmares. Not long after she begins to suspect something strange is happening in the house, three flocks of birds crash into the exterior of the house to their deaths.

To make matters worse, Lacy begins waking up with cuts and bruises, unaware of how she got them. Soon after, Daniel wakes up in his yard with a bloody nose, with no recollection of how he got there. At their wits' end, they call up an Internet expert named Edwin Pollard (J.K. Simmons), who gives them the answers the cops can't or won't. He informs them that aliens are living in their house and conducting medical tests and experiments on them. They are nearly impossible to get rid of, but since nothing else seems to work, the beleaguered family is willing to believe and try anything to get their quiet lives back again.

Russell and Hamilton have a great bond and believable chemistry in the film, which makes Lacy and Daniel a formidable pair when trying to get to the bottom of the strange occurrences. The whole story seems very believable, in fact, with Goyo turning in a great performance as a lovesick teenager who really doesn't need an alien invasion on top of his heartbreak. Simmons nearly steals the show out from under everyone else, though, as the slightly kooky alien expert. It isn't easy to convince people that aliens are conducting experiments on them, but he does so in a way that is fairly convincing. Even if the audience hadn't been privy to all the strangeness going on in the house before, they might have believed in an alien infestation just based on Simmons' performance.

Director Scott Stewart previously helmed "Legion" and "Priest," two very dark apocalyptic movies with a very similar tone and story. He breaks free of that genre with "Dark Skies," proving he can do more than just futuristic thrillers. He pays particularly close attention here to character development, making sure the audience is aware of each person's strengths and weaknesses before they go to battle to get their lives back. This is likely due to the fact that Stewart also penned the film's script, which allowed for some intimate details and personality shading that work well during the film.

The ending is a bit of a surprise because Stewart builds up plenty of suspense about the true nature of what is going on in the house. It also sets the film up to be a franchise, in case the movie does well at the box office and warrants a sequel. There are only a few horror film franchises in recent memory, most of which tend more toward blood and gore than suspense and chills. It would be nice to see a new series where a fresh film with lots of guessing and twists could be made every two years or so. "Dark Skies" is set up to achieve this and would likely quickly vault over other franchises as the best series in its genre. Whether that happens or not is completely up to the studio executives, but with a real need for a reliable horror series, don't be surprised if "Dark Skies" sequels start showing up at theater near you in the future.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars