FEATURE: Shocktober - Dark Skies

Over the course of October, I shall be watching one horror movie a day and reviewing it right here for your reading pleasure. I haven't seen any of the films I'll be watching before and you can find the full list hereMinor spoilers for the actions of stupid people.

Recommended to me by our very own Jen, Dark Skies is the second in a science fiction horror hybrid double that began with the previous Shocktober film, The Bay. The Barrett family are your typical suburban household; there's a slightly fraught marriage as a result of financial woes, a son on the border of rebellion and a cute younger son with no discernible personality. One night, the mother, Lacy, comes downstairs to discover their fridge has been invaded by someone who ate all of their fruit and vegetables and left it scattered all over the floor. It's only the start of several mysterious events.

Suburban horror and the haunted house has really made a comeback in the genre in the past few years in films such as Paranormal Activity, using found footage, and Insidious (connected to this film by producer), which plays with the idea that it's not the house that's haunted but the person. Dark Skies messes with these ideas, but adds a sci-fi spin on it, in that there's no ghost occupying either house or person, but aliens instead. It feels like this should be an original approach and mark the film out as something different. Instead, it's used to present the same old cliches again and again, but hey, look, aliens!

The film makes effective use of its suburban home location; odd camera angles and movements in the night time scenes add to the disturbing quality, rendering it unfamiliar. Shadows are also used well and the house itself, before any of the reveals, feels unfriendly and unwelcoming. Even in daylight, the house isn't particularly friendly, but I think that's more to do with the really dull decor than anything supposed to induce horror. There's a couple of decent shocks in there too, but it becomes far too reliant on the music to make the audience jump than anything actually shocking on screen which signals a rather hackneyed approach.

The suspense builds steadily, but for all intents and purposes, it feels a bit by rote to the point where several of the creepier moments are foreshadowed (including the film's twist) and the cliches start to pile on pretty thick. Chief amongst this is the cynical father versus the increasingly desperate mother. Some put an interesting spin on it and others don't. Dark Skies immediately falls into the latter category, putting Keri Russell through the proverbial wringer with little effect on the emotional resonance of the film. There isn't enough work put into the character for her continued plight to have the desired effect. Of course, he does eventually go along with her crazy alien theory, but it was kind of hard to care.

Even a late appearance by JK Simmons can't really save it, even though he does give good conspiracy nut. He does mean the film takes on another current that becomes more overt as the film goes on; the way in which to stop these aliens is to keep the family together and get them to move somewhere else. Yes. Stopping them isn't exactly stopping them, it's sending them after another family instead. Not particularly neighbourly. And after repeating Simmons' warning that the family needs to stick together, what's the first thing they do? Split up. 

Sorry Jen, I fear our tastes differ greatly on this one. Traditionally speaking, haunted house narratives, with aliens or otherwise, tend to freak me out rather a lot. Unfortunately, Dark Skies isn't one of them. There simply isn't enough originality in what it's attempting to do for it to work. The sci-fi spin is neat, but ultimately just an excuse to rehash tired cliches. 

- Becky

You can check out the full list of Shocktober reviews so far here.

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FEATURE: Shocktober - House on Haunted Hill (1959)

FEATURE: Shocktober - The Bay