Review: Dark Skies

"Dark Skies"Directed by Scott Stewart

Starring Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo

In UK Cinemas from Friday 5 April

In the run-up to July 4th, an average American family—the Bennetts—find themselves the subjects of a series of weird events—is it aliens, or are the kids just acting up?

The depiction of movie aliens has been stuck in a rut for over 40 years—they’re either Spielbergian explorers come to say “Hallo”, or—as addressed by J.K. Simmons’ UFO-nut in Dark Skies—they’ve come to invade and destroy our national monuments. Unfortunately Dark Skies makes no effort to innovate in this or any other department.

Writer-director Scott Stewart (Legion, Priest) is firmly working from the tired, old Spielberg playbook, and the resulting film is a terribly derivative mash-up between Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). Everything is here, from happy suburbia to kids dashing about on bikes, a main character who is too young to know what’s going on and confuses the aliens with storybook characters, and burgeoning teenage sexuality as a goes-nowhere sideline. Thrown in for good measure (instead of divorce, as in E.T.), the bickering parents have financial troubles due to the current crisis, giving the film a sheen of contemporary relevance. Otherwise, in terms of technique and presentation, Dark Skies could have been made almost anytime in the last 40 years. In fact, it was recently, only then it was called Paranormal Activity.

In fact, the 1990s TV show of the same title—also about aliens, this time in the 1960s—was more innovative in its depiction of aliens infiltrating humankind. This Dark Skies suggests that the “Grays” are experimenting with us, in the way we do with lab rats. However, these geniuses “experiment” by invading the kitchen, throwing food around, then building weird constructions from utensils before causing several flocks of misguided birds to crash into the Bennett family home. What doofuses.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with Dark Skies (the title echoes Spielberg’s never-made alien movie Night Skies). It’s an efficient little number that puts its no-name cast (Keri Russell is the biggest name here, although J.K. Simmons makes for a good late-stage Hunter S. Thompson) through their workman-like paces in a workman-like movie. Why the producers felt this was a movie that had to be made escapes me: have they never seen all the previous alien abduction movies that employ exactly the same tired tropes and worn-out “jump” moments? Cause we all have…

Verdict: Close Encounters by the numbers, 6/10

Brian J. Robb

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