In defense of ‘Dark Skies’

dark-skiesBY TROY PHILLIPS

As I walked out of the theater at the end of Dark Skies this past weekend, I couldn’t wait to rehash the best sequences with my favorite group of horror loving friends. There would be plenty of thought-provoking, exhilarating scenes to be placed upon the discussion block, and I couldn’t wait to get the ball rolling.

As we made our way through the reflective sanctuary that is a movie theater during the late night hours, I turned to the group and immediately declared my enjoyment for Dark Skies. After all, there is always a subtle pride in being the first to voice a widely accepted opinion. My initial declaration of opinion, followed by the brief response of one of my friends, strikes as bold in my memory of the movie as any work of cinematic genius or edgy suspense witnessed on-screen.

Me: “I loved that movie.”

Friend: “You did?”

What?

Now, believe me, I’m fully used to disapproval when it comes to my taste in cinema. I’m a noted horror lover and action hater, responses like the one above come with the territory under normal circumstances. But these weren’t normal circumstances. I had come to the movie flanked by five like-minded moviegoers, my ideal crop of scare seeking theater rebels. But the opinion on Dark Skies was split, and the balance leaning towards a verdict of forgettable mediocrity.

The reason for the rejection was simple, one that I should have seen coming when I walked into the theater with a group of horror diehards. There weren’t enough of the simple pleasures that come with watching a standard sci-fi creep show.  No “got you!” cheap scares for filler, no otherworldly special effects to lighten the burden of  plot development, no endless supply of superfluous blood and gore to sensationalize the viewer. All of these elements are worth having provided they are a good fit for the given film, but never should any of these added flavorings be used as a measuring stick by which to judge the validity of a supernatural tale. I took the blow in stride and put the issue to rest for the remainder of the night, contented that I was later able to land three donuts for the price of one (Dunkin Donuts, I owe you).

That didn’t mean that I forgot to hop onto the Internet later that night in search of some last-ditch validation. Seeing the olive-green “30%” atop Dark Skies’ Rotten Tomatoes page all but sealed its’ place in history as another middling horror film in the eyes of the general public. And honestly, as I sit here now feeling prematurely sentimental, I can think of few movies less deserving of such an image. The unfortunate truth is that Dark Skies placed itself firmly on the fence between cult demands and mainstream cinema. To the hybrid viewers, however, there is a tremendous amount of value packed into the one hour and thirty-five minutes of run time.

Josh Hamilton and Keri Russell star as parents of the ideal suburban family, minus some financial troubles and the increasingly disturbing episodes taking place in their youngest son. As the family starts to understand that something is awry, they struggle to place the source of the repeated disturbances in their home while trying to vanquish their respective mental burdens. The story isn’t nearly as standard grade as it may sound from the overview, but make no mistake; there are no Oscar-winning character arcs or critically acclaimed works of innovation. Nor are there many of the scream inducing, jump-out-of-your-seat type of moments that some horror fans have come to see as a necessity.

What Dark Skies does have is a logical and well-rounded framework complimented by a believable cast and a number of suspenseful moments that still hold their dignity as crucial foundation for the eventual climax, which, by the way, acts as the perfect bow to wrap up this neat little package of a film. Director/writer Scott Stewart’s story should be respected for not diving head over heels into the abyss of horror and sci-fi clichés just to appease fanatical spectators, but instead has been chastised for trying to please an increased number of demographics.  If you’re looking to wet your feet on the darker side of the cinematic spectrum or only a mildly radical horror fan (because all of us are a bit radical), then Dark Skies will not disappoint despite its’ unflattering outward appearance.

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