Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Cinema File #152: "Dark Skies" Review

For those of you who haven't listened to the first episode of my latest podcast, I am a devoted fan of all things cryptozoological and paranormal. I am not a believer as such, but I find the idea of supernatural mysteries and bizarre creatures hidden in plain sight to be fascinating just from the perspective of fantasy and drama. Being as big a fan of this stuff as I am, and of the science fiction that inspires it and is inspired by it, I know enough to know that the new film Dark Skies has no connection whatsoever to the famous cult TV show of some years ago. I also know enough to know that this shallow jump scare laden bore fest takes just enough from the reality of UFO theory and research into extraterrestrial encounters to insult anyone with a genuine interest in the subject.

Dark Skies follows a typical suburban family who find themselves chosen by alien invaders that conduct experiments on their human subjects as a prelude to abduction. The strange occurrences start small, with locked doors opening on their own, bizarre arrangements of items, missing family photos, and so forth, establishing a pattern of escalating chaos that eventually begins to affect each family member individually, as they are compelled to exhibit strange behavior beyond their control. If you've seen the trailer for this movie, you've basically seen the movie. Unexplained freaky stuff happens, then stops for a bit, then starts again, ad nauseum. It tries almost halfheartedly to bring it all together in the end with an able assist by J.K. Simmons as an expert in all things alien, but ultimately by that point I can't bring myself to care.

Through most of the movie I found myself quietly screaming at these characters for being so stubbornly stupid, or alternatively, stupidly stubborn. I'm not saying I would be so quick to piece together all the strange things happening and declare alien involvement after day one, but once a hundred birds commit suicide by flying into my house after everything in my fridge arranged itself into a massive sculpture reflecting patterns on the ceiling, I might just possibly start to think these events were connected, and might be something other than coincidence. The time it takes these people to stop looking for a rational explanation for everything going on around them very nearly puts the idiotic couple from Come Out And Play to shame, to the point where once they do all get on the same page and decide on the best way to defend themselves against this mysterious threat, I'm inclined to root for the aliens over any of them.

And it doesn't help that this family is practically trying to be as uninteresting as possible. We get only just enough information about their lives to cause us to question why they even bothered at all, with character beats that go nowhere, relationship moments only of the most cliched and awkward, and a long thematic through line of economic hardship that is almost defiant in its refusal to pay off into anything. I don't know if the kids are supposed to be endearing or creepy, or maybe both, and the more information I get about the parents' jobs, friends, and daily life just makes me mad as I go through the movie knowing that none of it is ever going to matter. And it doesn't. Sweet Jesus it doesn't. This movie is all about the slow build up to a jump scare, and if they didn't get you with one, then by gum they'll get you with the next one in five minutes or so.

Except that none of them really worked. Okay, scratch that, one was kind of cool, but wouldn't you know it, its the one that turns out to be all a dream, which is made even more ridiculous considering that prior to that point, whenever anyone would wake up from a jump scare as if it were a dream, we'd quickly find out that it wasn't, and that the person waking up was losing time. Its like the writers of this movie just did a Google search of alien abduction stories and started ticking off a checklist of various accounts, putting them all together at random into a hodgepodge of disconnected moments that just barely fit together for being in the same house and involving the same people. Its like The Fourth Kind without the found footage gimmick, which if you remember that movie, was the only thing it had going for it.

If the subject of alien encounters or the paranormal in general interests you at all, chances are Dark Skies will only serve to make you angry at its lack of imagination and respect, and if you aren't interested in any of that stuff, you'll most likely just find it really boring and inane. The ending is admittedly a bit darker and harder edged than I expected, especially given that a line earlier in the movie seemed to foreshadow a happier end, but its not great or anything, just better than the rest of the film by comparison. Its certainly not anything worth sitting through this mess of a sci-fi non-thriller to get to. The truth may be out there somewhere, but all we get in here with this movie is derivative and repetitive tripe.
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