I confess, I’m a sucker for alien abduction. I loved The X-Files. I read all the alleged abductee accounts — though not, I confess, without a strong vein of scepticism. Hell, I even quite liked The Fourth Kind, and that’s a film with a list of flaws as long as my arm.
So to a certain extent, Dark Skies was preaching to the gallery.
Dark Skies follows a suburban Californian family, who begin to suffer a series of odd occurrences. Strange rearrangements of kitchen items, things going missing, and a child talking about a mysterious “sandman”. From there things escalate into the full blown abduction scenario, when it becomes apparent that the aliens are coming for someone.
It proudly proclaims that it is from the producer of Sinister and Insidious . I would, admittedly, be a little less proud of that fact — but Dark Skies will feel a little familiar to people who have seen those films. The plot follows the same twists, the same basic conceits — such as centring the danger around children, and communicating it through drawings, the wizened expert who explains everything ahead of the final act.
One of its main saving graces is that quite simply aliens are scarier than a death metal singer, and Darth Maul and Old Mother Hubbard (respectively).
The other chief problem with Dark Skies is just how forced some of the interactions and relationships felt. One argument in particular, presumably meant to show a family under stress, seemed so overblown from such an insignificant matter as to ring ridiculous.
Which covers the negative. What about the positive? Well, it is creepy. Quite powerfully creepy, actually. The lingering sense of powerlessness, even as the family hunker down for what they know is an odds-against battle, is almost palpable. It goes to the root of the whole alien abduction fascination, the horror of mystery, the utter futility but absolute necessity of resistence.
So too the aliens. Enough is revealed to steer clear of the “didn’t see the aliens” criticisms which dogged the likes of Contact and The Fourth Kind (a stupid criticism) whilst avoiding the disappointment of tipping its hand too far. It implied the right amount, leaving the lion’s share to my imagination — which is far better and far more experienced at scaring me.
Dark Skies was not a perfect film. It would have helped a lot if its makers could steer a bit further away from the conventions of the genre and the formulas of their own making. But overall, it frightened and it entertained, so it’s hard to argue it did anything but hit the spot nicely.