Friday, March 1, 2013

Dark Skies [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  Chicago Sun-Times (2 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Chicago Sun-Times review (P. Sobczinski) review

Dark Skies (written and directed by Scott Stewart) is, IMHO, the best film made by the Paranormal Activity franchise since its original.  This isn't to say that Dark Skies isn't formulaic or that it doesn't lean on a slew of previous horror and alien invasion/conspiracy movies (Invasion of the Body Snatchers [1956], Birds [1963], Poltergeist [1982], X-Files [1993-2002], Signs [2002] and, of course, Paranormal Activity [2007]).  However, there's been a long tradition in American horror films of building on / borrowing from previous films.  What makes films following in this tradition succeed or fail is how well they apply/mix the story elements that have been borrowed (and after hopefully adding something original to the tale) to produce something new.  I do believe that writer/director Scott Stewart does this remarkably well here.

So what is the film about?  The film is about a supremely "average" contemporary American family -- Daniel and Lacy Barrett (played by John Hamilton and Keri Russell respectively) and their two sons, early teen Jesse (played by Dakota Goyo) and 6 year old Sam (played by Kadan Rocket) -- living in some suburb somewhere in the United States.

Some time back, Daniel's lost his job (as a graphics designer).  As such, the family's been depending on Lacy's real-estate job to keep afloat, but "in this market..." it hasn't been easy.  Viewers are repeatedly reminded that the family has been cutting back on expenses.  They've ceased subscribing to their "home alarm system." When due to things happening in the story, they find that they have to revisit that decision, Daniel suggests that perhaps they could go without cable for a while.

To be sure, Daniel's been having job interviews but has been finding it increasingly hard to explain why he's been unemployed for so long and why he became unemployed in the first place (he tells an interviewer that after his previous firm had lost a particularly large contract, his "whole department was cut."  The interviewer shakes his head in sympathy but doesn't completely believe him ... If Daniel had been truly valuable to his previous firm, wouldn't they have tried to keep him even if the rest of the department had to go?

Things come to a head, when we see Daniel opening the family's mail after coming home from a particularly unsuccessful and increasingly embarrassing interview to see that he's received a 90-days past due notice on the family's house.  Yikes ...

In this environment, strange things start happening at the Barrett household.  Lacy hears something one night, goes down to the kitchen and finds the refrigerator open and random food strewn all around in a mess.  The next night, she again hears something and finds a weird sculpture made of a random assembly of empty pop and beer cans and kitchen utensils.  The next morning, they call the police.

The police officer (played by Josh Stamberg) is sympathetic but thinks it's an "inside job," that is, that maybe one of their kids did it.  But Daniel, a former graphics designer after all, notes that the structure's too clever, too symmetric, too ingenious for one of his kids to do, presumably while sleep walking.  When the following night, Lacy and Daniel, who've since restarted their "home alarm" security service hear it go off, and then find that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEIR FAMILY PICTURES in the living room STOLEN (the frames still there but EVERY ONE OF THE PICTURES was gone) they call the police again.  The police officer is now absolutely convinced that it has to be one of their boys.

Both Daniel and Lacy start to think that the younger son, Sam, has been actually acting rather strangely.  BUT WHERE ARE THEY GOING TO FIND THE MONEY TO TAKE HIM TO A COUNSELOR,. NOW?  That's when suddenly 800 birds (from three different directions) come crashing into the windows of the house.  And in the days that follow, EVERYONE of the Barrett family starts having unexplainable episodes.  What the heck is going on? 

Is the family simply "cracking" under the pressure of approaching financial collapse?  Or is something else going on?   (Go watch the film ... ;-)

It all makes for a classic American style horror movie of the past 50-60 years (since the 1950s-60s) and one that famed horror fiction writer Stephen King (Danse Macabre) would find impressive.  To say more would ruin the film, but honestly, what a great setup of a story of this kind!

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