Saturday, October 10, 2015

Spooktacular Savings #9: DARK SKIES (2013)

Another day, another horror movie.  This time we have Dark Skies, a Blumhouse production (are you surprised - if you go to check out a horror film released in more than a 1000 theaters the past few years you'll hit one without even trying).  What's remarkable isn't so much the film itself but that this one had a trailer that made things look rather epic, in a 'What is THIS' sort of way:

I was intrigued, but for some reason or another (i.e. funds, time) I didn't venture out to see the film.  But the image of Keri Russell banging her head against the window, and the birds flying head-on into the house from many directions, were startling and memorable images.  When I thought it looked 'epic', maybe the word I was searching for was 'campy', or 'ridiculous'.  But Scott Stewart's movie is actually anything but, with the exception of those very few moments of outrageous behavior.

I have to think that the filmmaker pitched this as 'Poltergeist with aliens', since that's what we get.  Sure, there's no sisters this time, just two brothers, but the general principle applies: a suburban family, living somewhat usual lives - the father works at, uh, design or something, the wife as a real estate broker (Josh Hamilton and Russell respectively), and the two sons are about junior high and (young) elementary-school aged.  They start to notice some strange things, at first in their kitchen - the mother comes down in the middle of the night, the fridge has been ransacked ("What kind of animal takes the lettuce and not the bacon," she comments), and they leave things in big, prank-like ways, as if their kitchen was an art-installation.

Things keep occurring in more horrifying ways - with the youngest son seeing the "Sandman" as he calls it, and black-outs, head-aches, the birds, a mark behind Hamilton's eat, the sons finding marks on their bodies, and so on - and of course things don't move to try to get to problem solving as one of the adults doesn't fully believe it as much as the other.  The script isn't jokey about this in the slightest, and it's no wonder as this is meant as a real spooky type of time for modern (emphasis on PG-13) audiences.  And that's fine, except that it doesn't really leave much room for anything, shall one say, exceptional to go on.

There are things that I did like regarding some of the presentation of the characters, notably that the older son, Jesse (Goyo), is portrayed as being what a junior high schooler is like: hanging out with other asshole friends (or friend, really), watching hardcore porn (just to, you know, pass the time), and taking shit from this asshole friend just because, well, you don't know any better at that age (plus the first-kiss sort of thing, which is cliche but it's handled well).  I imagine another film where just the son was developed strongly, it was all from his point of view, and you might have something with it all being from his POV and how his parents become unglued and, shit, parents, they just don't understand.  But at least he's got a world that works, and the same is with the parents' financial situation (hey, modern times, fellas), and it's nice to see that there is some kind of external struggles that are around them anyway, without this threat.

But aside from providing the internet with two priceless gifs, which I'll put at the bottom of this post, there's not a lot remarkable here.  The filmmaking is competent and moves slickly, and there's a nifty cameo for JK Simmons as basically the version of Zelda Rubinstein from Poltergeist - the Exposition Dump, as it were, giving the adults as much as he knows (which is a lot) about the "Greys" as he calls them and how long they've been on Earth - except that he doesn't stick around really past the one scene, and it would've been so much more involving if he'd been there at the end (perhaps I'm colored by wanting as much JK Simmons as possible).  But the main actors, and even the kids, don't really get that much to do that requires much from the audience to see them as an otherwise pretty normal, ho-hum family caught up in pretty normal, ho-hum terror.

"Damn it, Uncle Irving, I told you to keep your hands off the little ones!"
There are some legitimate shocks scattered about, and yet even these are dulled by the PG-13 rating.  Not that Dark Skies would suddenly become a triumph with extra gore, but I'd like to think, say, a scene of the adolescents watching porn would be more realistic, or the adults would curse more (also, I'd argue, realistic once shit really starts hitting the fan and they realize how much their children are in danger - possibly from themselves if Society takes them away ala Child-Protective Services).  But the scares and violence correspond with that, and it's never not bad, but it's easy to watch.

It doesn't ask for that much, and we can sit and take in these characters and situation in such a way that one wishes it was really a movie about just the characters; if you got more in depth with them, as it's sort of hinted at in the first act, maybe we'd get more from Hamilton and Russell (certainly the latter's proved herself over and over again on FX's The Americans), with the kids as just OK throughout.  Ironically the aliens possibly get in the way of a more insightful marital/familial drama just around the corner, with their presence and escalation of invading their lives taking things in a more terrifying but less dramaturgically exciting way, if that makes sense.

But, two last things: 1) it's not found-footage, albeit Blum can't seem to not help but have a surveillance element (maybe needed for a key plot point, but still reminiscent of Paranormal Activity, to a major degree really).  And 2) these:

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