Sci-fi and horror rarely mix, but when they do it can result in classics like Alien, a near perfect fusion of scientific fiction and terror. Or, when the blend isn’t right, you get flops like The Mole People.
Dark Skies tries to hit the right balance with a story about a suburban couple, an ET disguised as a human and some good old-fashioned alien abduction.
Dark Skies did OK at the box office, but horror stories about outer space creatures have succeeded in the past.
The premise of Species is pure sci-fi. Scientists discover that alien and human DNA can be combined. Of course nothing bad will happen when you create a human with alien traits, right? A-listers like Ben Kingsley added some cache, but it was the horror of the H.R. Giger-designed alien and Natasha Henstridge’s flicking frog-like tongue that made the movie memorable.
Years before Peter Jackson hit it big with Lord of the Rings, he made a film that mixed sci-fi, horror and a big helping of humour. Bad Taste sees a small town taken over by aliens who harvest humans as ingredients for their fast-food restaurants. Über low-budget, the movie was called a “deranged, bloodthirsty heir to the Marx Brothers’ slapstick kingdom” by a BBC film reviewer. Its best joke may be on the DVD cover. The film title’s font looks like the logo of the U.S. takeout restaurant Fatburger.
It Came from Outer Space (one of the first alien invasion films), The Blob and giant ant movie Them! all combine the best elements of sci-fi and horror, but not all movies are as successful. The title Robot Monster promises some futuristic scares, but earned the title “Baddest of the B-Movies” in Michael Sauter’s book The Worst Movies of All Time mainly because the robot was actually just an actor dressed in a gorilla suit topped with a diving helmet.
The name Bela Lugosi conjures up images of horror to anyone familiar with his portrayal of Dracula, so a sci-fi movie with the genre legend should be both speculative and spooky, right? Wrong. The Golden Turkey Awards dubbed Plan 9 from Outer Space “The Worst Film Ever,” but it wasn’t Bela’s fault. He died before the movie was actually shot, but director Ed Wood Jr. used test footage of the actor in the finished film; hence the video box tagline, “Almost starring Bela Lugosi.”
When the Chordettes sang, “Mister Sandman, send me a dream,” in their 1954 hit song, it’s doubtful they imagined the kind of dreams—nightmares, really—the Sandman would bring little innocent Sammy in the sci fi thriller “Dark Skies.”
The Barett’s, mom Lacy (Keri Russell), dad Daniel (Josh Hamilton) and kids Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and Sammy (Kadan Rockett), are a typical suburban family until strange things start happening around the house. Sammy has weird dreams about the Sandman, all the family pictures disappear form their frames, sleepwalking becomes a nightly occurrence and someone—or something—builds a sculpture in the kitchen that looks like “a mathematician’s idea of a geometry joke.”
As the odd incidents continue Lacy and Daniel have conversations about what to do. “That is so weird,” he says. “It’s more than weird,” she replies, wide eyed.
Weird, yes. After hundreds of birds crash land into their house, Lacy tries to get to the bottom of their problems by googling a list of their problems. The search leads her to a site called Skywatcher report.com, run by ET expert Edwin Pollard (J.K. Simmons). He explains that aliens are here—they are a fact of life, “like death and taxes. They study us, do experiments on us.” The best you can do, he says, is try to fight them off.
“Dark Skies” is the “Anti-War of the Worlds.” There’s no mass little green man hysteria, just the concentrated horror of one family tormented by visitors from outer space.
The alien quotient is low. You really only see them in shadows or in “Paranormal Activity” style surveillance footage. Instead of rampant aliens the movie is a slow burn look at the breakdown of a family, troubled by forces they cannot control.
That part of the movie is effective, as is a shot of Jesse, flushed with the excitement of his first kiss riding his bicycle home with a giant grin plastered on his freshly smooched lips. Those moments work well, but as usual in a movie that tries to marry real family situations with the supernatural or alien happenings, I never completely buy in at how fast characters ditch rational thought and jump on board with the most outlandish answer possible to their problems.
When the doctor who examines Jesse after one of his incidents says there’s no neurological damage, so the Internet conspiracy nut must be right, right? “Could it be the government testing some new, secret weapon,” suggests Lacy before adding, “or could it be something not from here?”
I know irrational times occasionally lead to irrational thought—just ask the guy who tried to sell the Hulk Hogan sex tape—but I had a hard time believing that this family would take advise from an apartment-bound UFO nut before consulting with medical and government officials.
But that’s just me. If you want to get past the leaps of logic y0u’ll be left with a competently made thriller with some scares and loads of good atmosphere.