Thursday, September 24, 2015

Dark Skies (2013)

I guess I've seen too many amateur or found footage alien abduction movies lately (The Device, Alien Abduction, Absence - oh, and that segment from V/H/S/2), because it's so refreshing to watch one that actually has professional production values for a change. Dark Skies does a phenomenal job of setting up an atmosphere of suburban home life. Of course, as with most families, not everything is as perfect as it appears on the surface. The Barrett family (Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton play the heads of the household) are experiencing a money crunch, their eldest son (Dakota Goyo) is entering his rebellious adolescent period, and their youngest son (Kadan Rockett) is having nightmares about "the sandman". But it doesn't really start getting creepy until a series of unexplained late night break-ins accompany some weird, poltergeist-like activity.

In my opinion, a really effective horror movie - not necessarily one that represents the pinnacle of cinematic art, but a really effective horror movie - is one that puts you in that suggestive state, where you're actually scared of what might turn up on the screen in certain scenes, and where you actually begin to question the dark corners of the room you're sitting in, wondering what might be hiding there, in the shadows. Granted, Dark Skies wasn't quite as effective as Paranormal Activity, but I watched it during the middle of the day - albeit in a darkened room - and it still had that effect on me. There's probably a significant element of subjectivity there, as aliens (along with ghosts) are capable of scaring me in a way that no threat of vampires or zombies or...giant gila monsters ever could. Nevertheless, not every movie on this subject is equally effective, so it's worth mentioning.

If you'll forgive me for going off on a tangent, it's very unsettling, this idea that some kind of menace, some malicious entity, can get inside your comfort zone - that's always been one of the scariest things about alien abductions: that they come for you in the safety of your own bed at night. And that, with their technology (or whatever powers they have), they can't be stopped by such mundane obstacles as locked doors or windows, or electronic security systems. I had a sleep paralysis episode once in which it seemed that a malicious entity was standing beside my bed as I came awake, while I simultaneously realized that I couldn't move, or even speak. It was only a hallucination, but I can't imagine - even if it were merely the symptom of a mental disorder, and not invaders from outer space - that if you had to live with the experience of being haunted by such an entity, who - even more so, in lieu of it being a construction of your imagination - could evade any and all attempts to frustrate its access to you - I say, I can't imagine how that would destroy a person's state of mind (I think Communion dealt with that a little bit - the long-term effects of being an abductee). That's probably the scariest thing of all - when your own mind turns against you.

Which is not to say that that is what this movie is about. Rest assured, there really are aliens involved. Now, the movie isn't completely free of clichés - to demonstrate, in one scene, there is a subtle visual scare that's over-emphasized by the crashing score, to the point that when you realize the horror of what you're supposed to be reacting to, you feel a little cheated because it was only the noise that startled you - but it's still better than most. For example, in one scene involving a window, you're fully expecting a cheap scare, but what you get instead is rather unexpected, and turns out to be something unsettling on a whole different scale.

There is a satisfying scene late in the movie where the parents consult an experienced abductee (J.K. Simmons), whose monologue seems to place this movie as an anti-Independence Day. He claims that the invasion has already happened - that it was a quiet one, and that now the aliens are secretly going about their business (very X-Files-ish, come to think of it), making random people's lives a living hell, all for their science experiments. And then the movie's final confrontation occurs in the form of a 4th of July home invasion that has shades of Incident in Lake County. I think I may have possibly enjoyed this movie even more than The Fourth Kind.

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