Funny how when you don’t do something for a long time, when you come back to reattempt it, the ground can seem unfamiliar, hostile even. Oscar fever has passed, and it’s time for me to do a movie review, already. Let’s see if I still remember how to do this thing. Let’s talk about Scott C. Stewart’s Dark Skies.
Watching the trailer, one would be excused for getting a Paranormal Activity or Insidious vibe. It’s from the same production team, and it goes through the same motions: Normal family, one, two, terrorized by paranormal forces, three, four. In this movie, it’s aliens. Not the cool aliens from the Alien series, I mean horribly computer-generated, big headed, small bodied aliens. Dear, we’re going for the low-hanging fruit, huh?
The Barrett family hosts a barbecue and invite their friends the Jessops over. During the dinner, Daniel Barrett (Josh Hamilton) announces his distaste for his eldest son, Jesse's (Dakota Goyo) older friend, Kevin Ratner, whom he calls “Ratface,” which is, in fact, the unintentionally funniest line of dialogue in the entire film.
From there, we get a whole bunch of night-time sequences in which kids tell pointless stories, alarms go off, people get severe facial cramps, and the aforementioned aliens show up. Up until this point, the film does a relatively decent job in setting a bleak, foreboding mood. Then the old clichés start popping up. Your classic jump scares, bright lights, an inability to get through a pantry door, and the film demands that you look at and admire their aliens in all of their early ‘90s animated glory. I don’t know how many more passable films need to be destroyed because the computer animators feel the need to shake their high-school computer programming projects in our faces.
So, anyway, people disappear and … J.K. Simmons shows up? Why the hell wasn’t J.K. Simmons in this film earlier? When you have J.K. Simmons in your movie, you need to utilize him as much as is humanly possible. If nothing else, he’ll keep the cold, unfeeling cynics like me interested in what’s going on.
So finally, our protagonists move away after becoming suspects in their own son’s disappearance. The movie goes on for another ten minutes, or so, we get a Silent Hill-esq crackle of static over a walkie talkie, and the movie decides to just stop running.
It’s one thing to try to create a series of suspense and drop the ball. It’s another thing entirely to destroy the only semblance of suspense that you had by needlessly showing your antagonists. The best villain is the self. If you can find a way to turn the protagonists into the film’s antagonists, then you’ve done something wonderful. But no. I don’t know (how to successfully write an antagonist): therefore, aliens.
Go see Dark Skies if you’re really into paying someone $10 to be profoundly disappointed. Otherwise, you could watch the first episode of South Park on YouTube and get about as much out of it.
Photo courtesy of cinematoria.com