Your attitude toward “Dark Skies” depends on whether or not you want to see a remake of “Signs.” In reality, the entire movie is one big reworking of the M. Night movie sans the religious overtones. There’s the disjointed family, the bonded siblings, the static laden communication devices, the doe eyed youngster who can sense the aliens, the barking family dog, and there’s even an awkward dinner where the dad begins sharing stories about his children. And yet, despite the obvious derivations from the aforementioned M. Night film, I really enjoyed “Dark Skies” through the very end.
Scott Stewart’s “Dark Skies” sneaks by being a retread, mainly because of the really thick tension and suspense he pulls off with an effective score and sharp direction. The prospect of aliens interrupting an already troubled family is given heavy emphases on the realm of terrifying, and they’re much more menacing than what we’re used to. Director Stewart keeps the villainous intruders shrouded in the shadows, more as specters that often represent much more than simply extraterrestrials. There is no reason why the Barrett family seems to be chosen by the extraterrestrials, nor is there a reason why they’re being experimented on. They’re just a troubled family unit destined to fall apart that begin to be victimized by alien beings that have apparently always been in their lives.
To keep them more of an omnipresent force, they’re very ambiguous in both intent and purpose. We’re never sure if they want to contact the Barretts or destroy them, and they open the door to a lot of undertones that are sadly never really touched on. Perhaps oldest son Jessie was targeted by the aliens because of the heavy implication of sexual abuse as a child. And perhaps Sam is being infiltrated because of the implication of physical abuse that’s peppered throughout the narrative. It’s not much of a stretch when you consider how the aliens’ evidence look like bruises from a stronger presence. In either case, much like the evil in various horror outings, they’re the snake in the grass that sneaks in when the Barrett family are at their weakest. What elevate the film beyond science fiction schlock are the strong performances, mainly by Keri Russell who approaches her role as distressed mom Lacey with gusto and pure emotion.
She is a woman that can barely keep up with life, and now has to protect her children from a force much greater than she ever imagined. There’s also a strong turn from Josh Hamilton as dad Daniel, who is also rendered somewhat impotent by his unemployment, and has to regain his confidence in order to unite his family against the common evil. There’s also a great walk on by JK Simmons as an expert in alien encounters whose admitted defeat and does what he can to help the Barretts gain the upper hand on the intruders. I was never sure where director Stewart was taking the sub-plot with Jessie and his best friend with a violent streak. And I never understood the symbolism, if anything, about the house Jessie constantly retreated to for solitude. Not to mention the narrative takes a while for it to really pick up momentum. In either case, while “Dark Skies” isn’t a masterpiece by any means, it does amount to some decent scares, top notch production values, and a very effective final punch.