The couple at the heart of the thriller Dark Skies appears to have it all. The attractive duo (Josh Hamilton, Keri Russell) have two sweet kids and live in a beautifully decorated home smack dab in ’50s style suburbia.
The forces–both real and otherworldly–that eventually undermine them are what interested writer/director Scott Stewart. The director of Legion and Priest says he wanted to focus on matters out of the family’s control, from a collapsing housing market to dealing with a teen’s sexual awakening.
“Those are the things that make us afraid and unsettled and divide us from connecting with each other as family,” Stewart tells Big Hollywood.
Of course, the film’s suburbs-based story drops in something your friends and neighbors don’t have to deal with–an outside menace which threatens their existence.
Dark Skies, on home video May 28, follows a family in crisis before some mysterious events take hold of their home. The husband is unemployed and lying to his wife about his job prospects. One son is hanging out with an older teenager who thinks nothing of playing pornography while the pre-teen is around. By the time things start going bump in the night the clan already is teetering on the edge of destruction.
“As a writer, you’re always looking for the ways to do the most terrible things to do you main characters,” he adds, referring to a subplot in which the parents are suspected of abusing their children due to the fallout from the home’s invading presence.
Stewart says too many scary movies used kids as props, so he went for a different approach. He would avoid calling “action” and “cut” to set his young actors at ease, and he often shot their scenes first to make sure their attention spans didn’t wane.
The director’s first two films, Legion and Priest, touched on faith in very different ways. Hollywood has tried to pidgeonhole Stewart as a faith-based storyteller ever since, but he says his previous films were pragmatic choices more than an indication of any personal quest.
“It’s an odd thing for a Jewish kid from the suburbs,” he cracks.
“Thematically speaking, every story is about an unhappy famly that hopefully becomes happy again,” he says of his initial three films. Legion dealt with absent fathers, while Priest explored the notion of sacrifice and how war impacted families.
The films may have touched upon serious family matters, but it didn’t stop the actors involved from channeling their inner children.
Those films both featured actor Paul Bettany, a classicaly trained British actor who Stewart recalls struck a heroic pose while shooting Legion. The actor, after firing off rounds of gunfire while the camera rocketed around him, shared his glee with the cast and crew.
“I was in the Royal Shakespeare Company, but this is why I wanted to be an actor,” he recalls the actor saying.