Directed by: Scott Charles Stewart
Starring: Keri Russell, Dakota Goyo, Josh Hamilton, J.K. Simmons
Dark Skies was pushed via marketing as a new film from the producers of Insidious. That said a lot to me back then about the target demographic for this film. Insidious was just a slightly better than average film in a subgenre of horror that was never that interesting to start with. It seems like only the Japanese filmmakers had a grasp on it and their films even became diluted and bland once their distributors saw the dollar signs coming in from American movie fans. So I was curious about this film but fearful enough of it to stay out of the theater when it was out.
The coolest thing about Dark Skies is just what the filmmakers were able to accomplish on such a micro budget. The film is a horror/sci-fi hybrid shot digitally with around $3 million to get the job done. The film made over $23 million at the box office so in that regard the project was a success. The film tells the story of a family crumbling under extreme financial pressures that is also being harassed at night. Their kitchen gets reorganized, pictures are removed from frames and much more. Police think it’s either the kids or some other kids in the neighborhood possibly. At first the events feel supernatural and the film’s atmosphere would lead you to believe that the first act of the film is a supernatural story. The culprits are otherworldly but not of the great beyond ilk. These villains are other worldly in the most literal sense. The most successful aspect of this movie is the marrying of a horror movie atmosphere to an alien abduction story. Yes that marriage has been well done in other films but that doesn’t take away the success that this film has in that department.
The problem is that the rest of the film isn’t as successful as the thematic elements. Characters in the film are painfully formulaic and under developed and story points are all predictable long before they ever happen. J.K. Simmons is typically great in things in spite of the oversaturation of him in insurance ads but here he’s phoning it in. He did this film for what must be a very tiny paycheck. His character is also true to formula, predictable, and his involvement in the film isn’t as successful atmospherically as the rest of the film.
The tiny budget also forced the filmmakers to take a minimalist and almost retro approach to the special fx and again this is one of the elements of the film that was successful. There were a few moments of the film of true tenseness and some good scares. The only problem you might have is that they were ruined by trailers and commercials that revealed way too much. Dark Skies isn’t a bad film, in fact it’s worth a rent and a single view. Sadly the film just falls into the realm of mediocrity.
The film was shot digitally so taking the blu-ray from the original digital source means that the video here looks exactly as it was meant to look theatrically. The color pallet is purposefully shifted for dramatic effect and it comes off crisp and clean here. Some detail drops off in the darkest of scenes but this appears to be more of a limitation of source material rather than a poor transfer. As I mentioned earlier the budget for this film was miniscule so some scenes probably just weren’t lit as well as they should have been. The creepy atmosphere benefits from the less is more situations created by the lacking detail in those darker scenes.
The DTS HD 5.1 audio helps sell the atmosphere along with an effective but subtle score. Surrounds are kicked in here and there but the sub-woofer never gets enough use to create a dynamic range for the film. Dialogue s distortion free throughout the film but there are a few places where it’s a touch too quiet.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
There’s not a lot to speak of as far as bonus features but Anchor Bay does give us a little to work with:
The best feature on the disc is the audio commentary from the producers and the director. Not only do they discuss the making of the film but they also go into the process they use for crafting low budget horror films and selling them. Dark Skies was originally conceived as a found footage style film but smarter minds convinced the director to go for a more standard feature film approach.
There’s a group of deleted and extended scenes along with an alternate ending that can be viewed with or without commentary. There’s really nothing here of interest other than the terrible alternate ending. This should be seen as an extra so you can say to yourself “well this movie could have been a whole lot worse”.
There are no featurettes of any kind and no making of documentaries so it’s a good thing there’s so much solid information in the commentary.
Dark Skies is a moderately entertaining distraction, definitely worth a rent but not something for the collection.
Overall (Not an average) 5/10
The Movie 5.5/10
The Video 8/10
The Audio 7.5/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 4.5/10
Overall (Not an Average) 5/10