For much of Dark Skies, it seems that the troubles brought upon the Barrett family stem from a cursed porno. Like a strange twist on The Ring, from the moment tweenage son Jesse (Dakota Goyo) returns from watching said adult movie with his friend Kevin Ratner (L.J. Benet), mysterious ills befall his suburban Arizona home. Break-ins occur without signs of entry and flocks of birds slam into the house’s windows, all of which younger son Sam (Kadan Rockett) claims is the work of the nefarious Sandman. The actual (non-porno) explanation, however, is far less interesting and the hackneyed path to answers is one of exceptional dullness.
In casting Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton as Lacy and Daniel Barrett, respectively, writer/director Scott Stewart makes a bold statement by uniting arguably the most vanilla combination of Gen-X parents imaginable. Imbued with minor employment and economic woes, the cookie-cutter pair’s uneventful life is made all the more boring by the actors’ limited ranges. The leads’ lack of appeal thus proves a lethal partner with the filmmaker’s ineptitude in building suspense. As more unusual events transpire, such as dishes stacked to the ceiling and the simultaneous triggering of the security system’s sensors, the parents follow up with the proper authorities and wonder what the heck is going on. Considering the near-nightly frequency with which the unexplained take place, however, no one seems overly concerned.
In turn, Stewart gives the audience a casual cinematic experience to match. Lazily employing a hodgepodge of staples from producer Jason Blum’s horror catalog, Dark Skies trots out Paranormal Activity’s videotape surveillance and a child’s drawings of the evil entity only he can see, a detail direct from Insidious. Problems even extend to the terrifying prospect of corporeal possession along the lines of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, though the actual consequences are limited to social awkwardness. Daniel and Jesse are turned into a mouth-breathers with nosebleeds, Sam wets himself in public, and Lacy bangs her head against a sliding glass door while conducting a house tour, none of which are enacted with any degree of fear. In these and other allegedly chilling instances, it doesn’t help that the timing of the scares and the accompanying soundtrack jolts are off, a combination that kills any chance of a fright. When the elements at last align, the union results in one good jump, only to revert to the less effective approach as if such competence was a mistake.
Even so, the promise of J.K. Simmons classing up the joint as conspiracy theorist Edwin (!!!) Pollard keeps hope alive. Located through Lucy’s silly internet sleuthing, once Pollard’s services are needed, the actual meeting presents a character so numb to the world that he surprisingly makes the film worse. Informing the Barretts that their situation is essentially hopeless, he inspires a rushed ending involving the family’s procurement of an aggressive German Shepherd, a shotgun, and hardware to barricade themselves in the house. The sudden frenzied sense of immediacy plays out no better than the preceding muck, however, and goes a step lower with a “twist” ending that doesn’t line up with anything in the set-up besides a lone throwaway detail. Concluding with the inevitable yet inane possibility of a sequel, Dark Skies is no better than its ear-ringing score and just as irritating. Too bad the evil porno was merely a ruse.
Rated PG-13 for violence, terror throughout, sexual material, drug content and language – all involving teens.
Dark Skies is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.