How many creepy kids do you know? Have you ever felt compelled to wire your house with multiple cameras at every angle? When was the last time you found yourself awake in a strange place? For producer Jason Blum, this is America – or, at least that’s how his horror-heavy resume appears to frame it. Between Insidious, Sinister and four (soon to be five) Paranormal Activity chapters, his blockbuster-manufacturing plant Blumhouse Productions has cranked out the same film for the past four years. With his latest feature, Dark Skies, Blum terrorizes another helpless American family, swapping out the spectres for aliens.
Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton play struggling, work-hungry parents trying to raise two children in a suburban paradise. When their younger son becomes the Creepy Kid, assuming all the cliches of the genre (e.g. eerie crayon drawings, imaginary friends, midnight sleepwalks), they start to think “something’s up.” Only after a couple hundred birds complete a kamikaze mission into their house, or when Felicity smashes her head into a sliding glass door, or when their older son goes catatonic do they become true believers. Just remember, it’s all about aliens.
And really, that’s the one saving grace of this film. Director Scott Stewart, best known for future FX Movie Classics Priest and Legion, wrote such a predictable, lifeless script that it all boils down to the mystery at large: the little green grey men. The teleporting antagonists work off an intriguing enough mythos (thinkSigns meets The X-Files) and Stewart exhibits enough restraint throughout the majority of the film that they’re always surprising and even jarring. Given that aliens haven’t been scary in years, one might call that a mild success. The same credit goes to J.K. Simmons’ minor role as a veteran alien scholar/survivor who’s more or less a combination of Fox Mulder and Father Merrin. He appears toward the film’s admittedly stronger second half, about the same time Russell and Hamilton start to remember what film they’re in.
Outside of that, Dark Skies attempts to survive on tension alone, which leaves the audience with their popcorn, high blood pressure, and deep-seeded wishes that something – a spectre, a possessed kid, or, in this case, an alien – pop out and take their mind off the cardboard characters, dialogue, and storyline that’s in dire need to be folded up. Instead, it’ll go straight to the recycling bin at Blumhouse Productions.