×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Dark Skies’: Film review

After a couple energetically ludicrous fantasy-horror actioners, visual-effects veteran turned writer-director Scott Stewart (“Legion,” “Priest”) somewhat overcompensates in the direction of restraint with the more straightforward chiller “Dark Skies.” Featuring all the attention to character, reality-grounding and slow suspense-building those films had no time for, this tale of an average middle-class family imperiled by possible alien visitors is solid genre entertainment, but it may not go far enough in terms of originality or payoff to sustain much biz after posting decent opening numbers this weekend. Ancillary prospects are strong.

Contrary to a kickoff montage of idyllic suburban life, this particular suburbia is not a picture-perfect Spielbergian haven from harsh realities, as both the many foreclosure signs and Joseph Bishara’s effectively ominous score suggest. The Barretts are worried about their own mortgage: architect dad Daniel (Josh Hamilton) has been between jobs a little too long, and mom Lacy’s (Keri Russell) real-estate commissions have dropped as she tries to push foreclosed fixer-uppers on nervous young couples. Their sons sense the parental stress while going through their own age-appropriate stuff: 13-year-old Jesse (Dakota Goya) is just getting interested in girls while getting into minor trouble with older kid Kevin (LJ Benet), while 6-y.o. Sammy (Kadan Rockett) has occasional nightmares, thanks to Jesse’s scary bedtime stories.

A series of increasingly bizarre nocturnal disturbances — a raided refrigerator, rearranged family possessions, etc. — seem all the more disturbing because there are no signs of external entry. The police assume somebody within the family is sleepwalking or playing pranks. But there’s no such explanation for why hundreds of birds fling themselves against the Barretts’ home as if magnetically pulled there, or why each family member begins experiencing blackouts or seizure-like episodes. When Lacy seems to glimpse a long tall stranger (of the E.T. variety) by Sammy’s bedside, Daniel thinks she’s losing it. After he installs a surveillance camera system — and long before the now-desperate couple visit an expert (J.K. Simmons) in such phenomena — they realize they’re indeed up against something otherworldly.

In a welcome departure from the silliness of “Legion,” Stewart’s script spends wisely devotes quality time to the everyday, establishing the Barretts as a normal, functioning yet fallible unit, well-etched by both adult and juve thesps. It’s also smart enough to touch on inevitable community fears (once the kids’ distress makes it appear their parents might be abusing them) without letting that overwhelm the narrative.

But after a while this drumbeat grows monotonous, while the scares never greatly escalate. The full-on home-invasion climax does briefly go off into a weird, surreal direction — and springs a decent-enough twist. But in the end, a pretty good buildup to OK payoff without any real surprises en route makes “Dark Skies” feel just enough above average to make one wish it had one memorable spark of conceptual inspiration up its sleeve.

Eschewing the high-gloss (let alone FX-crowded) look of his prior features, Stewart and collaborators go for an unshowy presentation that’s competent if sometimes verging on bland.

A Dimension release of a Dimension Films and Alliance Films presentation in association with IM Global of a Blumhouse and Robotproof production. Produced by Jason Blum. Executive producers, Scott Stewart, Charles Layton, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Jeff Okin, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein. Co-producers, Jessica Hall, Jeanette Voltumo-Brill. Directed, written by Scott Stewart.
Starring Lacy Barrett, Keri Russell, Daniel Barrett, Josh Hamilton, Jesse Barrett, Dakota Goyo, Sam Barrett, Kadan Rockett, Edwin Pollard, J.K. Simmons, Kevin Ratner, LJ Benet.
Camera (color, HD), David Boyd; editor, Peter Gvozdas; music, Joseph Bishara; production designer, Jeff Higinbotham; art director, David King; set decorator, Hernan Camacho; costume designer, Kelle Kutsugeras; sound (Dolby Digital/Datasat), Buck Robinson; supervising sound editor, Kelly Cabral; re-recording mixer, Craig Mann; visual effects, Fuse FX; stunt coordinator, Rob King; assistant director, Adam Druxman; casting, Rick Montgomery. Reviewed at AMC Van Ness 14, San Francisco, Feb. 22, 2013. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 97 MIN.

'Dark Skies': Film review

More Film

  • Adam Driver appears in The Report

    Amazon’s ‘The Report’ Gets U.K. Theatrical Release Ahead of Streaming Launch

    Amazon Studio’s “The Report” will be released theatrically in the U.K. three weeks before it lands on the Prime Video streaming service. The Scott Z. Burns film tells the story of Daniel J. Jones, a U.S. Senate staffer who worked to reveal that truth about an “enhanced interrogation” program run by the CIA in the [...]

  • Elton John performing at Earls Court,

    Elton John Has a Message for Struggling LGBTQ Youth: 'Be Proud of Who You Are'

    Elton John isn’t at a loss for words when asked if he has a message for young LGBTQ people who are struggling with their sexuality or gender identity. In an exclusive interview with Variety at last month’s Cannes Film Festival, just hours before the world premiere of his long-in-the-works biopic “Rocketman,” John spoke candidly about the [...]

  • Salma Hayek Owen Wilson Bliss

    Salma Hayek, Owen Wilson to Star in Amazon's Sci-Fi Drama 'Bliss'

    Salma Hayek and Owen Wilson have signed on to star in Amazon’s science-fiction drama “Bliss,” with Mike Cahill directing from his own script. Wilson portrays a recently divorced man whose life is falling apart when he meets Hayek’s character, a woman who lives on the streets and is convinced that the polluted, broken world around [...]

  • Donald Glover Beyonce

    Beyoncé and Donald Glover Harmonize in 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight' Ad Preview

    Anyone who’s longed to hear Beyoncé and Donald Glover harmonizing got just enough to further whet the appetite in a first snippet of their version of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” that’s included in a new commercial for Disney’s upcoming “Lion King” remake. The TV spot lasts just 30 seconds, hardly time at all [...]

  • Pride Allies

    The Hollywood Allies Who Helped Protect, Advance the LGBTQ Community This Year

    Strong and proud as it is, the LGBTQ community’s fight for equality needs allies — from loving and accepting families to galvanized colleagues and corporations to the movie star you’ve never met calling for boycotts of a homophobic nation-state. Several of those queer supporters in Hollywood and music used the megaphones of social media, public [...]

  • 'Easy A' Spinoff in the Works

    'Easy A' Spinoff in the Works From Original Screenwriter (EXCLUSIVE)

    Nearly a decade after the success of “Easy A,” a spinoff of the coming-of-age comedy is in the works. Sources tell Variety that Screen Gems has appointed Bert Royal, who penned the first script, to write and direct the upcoming movie. Insiders stress that the film is still in early development, as Royal is still [...]

  • Screen writer Beau WillimonMary Queen of

    Beau Willimon Running Unopposed for Re-Election as President of Writers Guild East

    Beau Willimon, the playwright and showrunner who launched Netflix’s “House of Cards,” is running unopposed for re-election to a two-year term as president of the Writers Guild of America East. Willimon also ran unopposed in 2017 to succeed Michael Winship. The WGA East announced a total of 24 candidates Thursday for its top officer posts [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content