Dark Skies is the latest outing from Scott Stewart, the guy who essentially remade Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive with pissed-off angels in the place of homicidal 18-wheelers in Legion.
Stewart does some more borrowing in Dark Skies, but with more well-known and well regarded material, namely Poltergeist, with a bit of Signs and a hint of Paranormal Activity.
Like Poltergeist, Dark Skies finds a normal suburban family in a decidedly abnormal situation. Keri Russell, lovely as always, and Josh Hamilton are Lacy and Daniel Barrett, the husband and wife head of a family unit that consists of their two sons, Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and Sam (Kadan Rockett).
Daniel is an out-of-work architect desperately seeking employment, while Lacy tries to close sales at her real estate job to keep the family afloat.
Spooky shit bubbles up when strange things start happening when everyone’s asleep. The fridge is violently raided, household items are arranged in funny patterns and all the family photos disappear. It all seems like a sick prank, until Sam starts behaving erratically, and it becomes apparently that a visitor he speaks of from his dreams, the Sandman, may not be just the product of a child’s imagination.
Horror films that pop up early in the year are usually suspect, as the early months are often a theatrical dumping ground for genre entertainment. The pedigree behind the camera isn’t exactly one that makes me salivate, either. Stewart’s Legion was a forgettable experience, and Priest doesn’t have the greatest reputation.
If Dark Skies similarly starred Paul Bettany, it would have been even more of a cause for concern. But Dark Skies, while derivative, is surprisingly solid work. It has the chill of Signs without repeating M. Night Shyamalan’s third act missteps, and the care felt for a family-in-crisis that gave Poltergeist its heft. If you’re going to nick material from other films, it’s a good bet to do it from great ones, given you can blend them correctly, which Stewart manages to pull off.
The one surprising thing here was Goyo, who was a big sticking point for me in Shaun Levy’s Real Steel. Obviously his annoying performance there wasn’t his fault, so much as it was Levy’s, but here he gets a decent role to flesh out, and he handles gracefully. The 13-year-old angst that comes with puberty is a tough thing to convey without it veering off into something completely irritating. Goyo brings a youthful honesty to his character that is rare for performers his age, and it speaks to Stewart’s developing skill as a writer and director that he lets his character breathe, a luxury not often afforded to genre characters.
One only hopes that he continues to pick projects that further develop his blooming talent.