April 5, 2013

Dark Skies (2013)

"As the Barrett family's peaceful suburban life is rocked by an escalating series of disturbing events, they come to learn that a terrifying and deadly force is after them."

While other people were getting all excited about the "Evil Dead" remake which, undoubtedly, will be reviewed on every horror blog this weekend until you are sick to death of reading about it, I chose to watch something different last night. There were no "Evil Dead" marathons for me because I don't even like the original anymore. Instead of getting caught up in the circus of Bruce Campbell grinning like a lunatic, chopping bits of himself off and waving a chainsaw about, I decided to watch something completely alien to me in more ways than one.

I endeavoured to find enjoyment in yet another Blumhouse Productions movie which has already been slammed by discerning horror critics from one side of the internet to the other. I heard that it had cats in it at one point, and really that's all a movie needs to keep me entertained nowadays. Well, that and a decent bit of storytelling, of course.

I'm not going to get into the finer details because I could easily sum up "Dark Skies" in a couple of choice expletives after it gave me another bout of "Juno Syndrome". For those of you who never read my blog regularly when I was more prolific, "Juno Syndrome" is my own term for when I enjoy a movie throughout its running time then realise 2 minutes after it ends that it was a load of contrived crap which doesn't stand up to any kind of critical deconstruction. "Dark Skies" has good production values, quite a few creepy moments, and I got fished into the Spielberg-esque suburban family problems, but almost as soon as the credits were over, I realised that I had been well and truly misled.

Already people will think, "Ah, but you're just a hater and don't like any PG-13 movies!" That's not entirely true. I didn't even know that "Dark Skies" was a PG-13. I also didn't know anything about the story beforehand other than it might have "extra terrestrials" in it. As long as a PG-13 movie doesn't intentionally have its punches pulled to earn that rating, I'm actually okay with it.

An anorexic teenager with a big head is behind you!

A lot of people also think that I'm totally against PG-13 rated horror just because horror shouldn't be PG-13. That's not actually true either as there are quite a few PG-13 horror and sci-fi movies which I've enjoyed over the years including "Poltergeist" (1982), "Signs" (2002), and even "The New Daughter" (2009). It's just as well really since "Dark Skies" is little more than a fusion of those three all over again. Unfortunately, with it being a Blumhouse Production, "Dark Skies" also shares the same plot construction as "Insidious", "Paranormal Activity" and "Sinister", and I really do hate those.

"Dark Skies" is "Poltergeist" with more discovery contrivances and the ghosts changed to evil grey aliens who look like "Slenderman". If you think you've seen it all before, you have. The only thing which stands out in a good way is the Apple product placement because I'm pretty sure that my next computer really will be an Apple after all the trouble I've had with Linux recently. It's refreshing to see the computers in use rather than being pawed by a certain immature blonde on YouTube.

No, I'm joking. The highlight of "Dark Skies" is actually the cat-owning "alien expert" Edwin Pollard, played by J.K. Simmons, whose exposition is up there with the best of them even if it borrows a lot from the scene between Roger Wayne (James Gammon) and John James (Kevin Costner) in "The New Daughter". I've seen J.K. Simmons in a lot of things. He's a great actor, but he'll still always be Vern Schillinger from "Oz" to me.

The rest of the acting is fairly decent too. I couldn't understand a single thing the little brother said, and the unnecessary close-ups of Keri Russell's upper lip mole distracted me, but it's fine otherwise. I can't abide kids in movies anyway, and Keri Russell is still fairly hot without any lipstick so I'm not going to condemn the cinematographer of "Dark Skies" for wanting to get near her. The characterisation is very good to the extent that the family and their lifestyle are more interesting in themselves than any of the alien abduction nonsense which comes along to ruin it.

The trouble is that aliens and alien abductions simply aren't real. It's total bullshit. If "Dark Skies" had been about a demonic house possession (which it really is anyway given so many "Poltergeist" homages) then it would be a worthy (albeit very generic) entry into the genre. Apart from an awesome (but borrowed) bird scene and one genuinely terrifying (also borrowed) moment near the end, "Dark Skies" is long on tension but disappointingly short on scares.

There's barely a trace of originality in "Dark Skies" other than the "twist" ending which should have quit while it was ahead. It seems to be a trademark of Blumhouse to deliver a great punchline and then ruin it all by adding too many anti-climactic minutes afterwards. It's not as if they care. Movies are just a pop product to them. As long as they make as much money as possible (as quickly as possible), to Hell with leaving the audience feeling satisfied.

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