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MOVIE REVIEW: Dark Skies

A quiet suspense thriller centered around possible alien possession and abduction. Solid with enjoyable twists and turns, extraterrestrial lovers may want to taken to their leader.

7.5 out of 10 | Rental

Rated: PG-13 Violence, language, drug content, all involving teens, sexual material and terror throughout.

Release Date: February 22, 2013

Runtime: 1 hour 35 minutes

Director: Scott Stewart

Writers: Scott Stewart

Cast: Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo, Kadan Rockett, J.K. Simmons, L.J. Benet, Rich Hutchman, Myndy Crist, Annie Thurman, Jake Brennan

SYNOPSIS: As the Barrett family's peaceful suburban life is rocked by an escalating series of disturbing events, they come to learn that a terrifying and deadly force is after them.

REVIEW: Priest director and Legion writer/director Scott Stewart returns with a tale of aliens, abductions, and unseen forces claiming ordinary people for possibly sinister reasons. Will director Stewart bring the same visual style to a tale that seems more ordinary than his previous fantasy-based films?

Lacy Barrett (Keri Russell, The Amerikans) and her husband Daniel (Josh Hamilton, J. Edgar) struggle to keep their financial necks above water as the job market tightens and both do whatever they can to pay the bills and keep their sons Jesse (Dakota Goyo, Rise of the Guardians) and Sam (Kadan Rockett, The Fortune Theory) safe and secure. One day three different flocks of birds inexplicably slam into their house. Then their younger son Sam starts to sleepwalk outside without setting off the home security alarms. Pictures go missing from their frames. Furniture, dishes, and utensils reorganize into geometric designs seemingly all by themselves. The security alarm company can't find a reason for the failures of their system. The police who come to investigate the strange happenings think one of the sons had a hand in the pranks. When Lacy sees a strange humanoid form lurking above Sam's bed, she starts to believe that there is more going on than unrelated events. She goes online to find support from around the world for similar events that have plagued her and her family. The Barretts seek out author, conspiracy theorist, and former alien chaser Edwin Pollard (J.K. Simmons, Contraband) for an unified theory as to what they can do to keep their family safe and stop the events from happening to them. Warning them that moving away, going to the authorities, or ignoring the situation will not help, Pollard tells the Barrett family that their only recourse is to fight the 'greys' with everything they can, hoping that they can make their sons too much trouble to deal with.

Scott Stewart surprised me with the angel and demon roadhouse pre-apocalypse taleLegionDark Skies is more mundane source material with an ordinary, nothing special family of four who just happen to be the object of aliens interested in their abduction. The film will never be as epic as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, taking the story to the opposite end of the spectrum by focusing firmly on the plight of the nuclear family. All outsiders in the story - from the neighbors, to the alarm company, to the police - look at the Barrett family as if they are crazy, even if they do not come right out and say it. And from the outside, they family does seem altered. Older Barrett son Jesse is chased by his friend Kevin Ratner (L.J. Benet, Shadow Witness) and ends up having eye-rolling seizure in the woods. Younger son Sam goes to the pool and the neighbor finds disturbing mars on his back and stomach. In a normal world, Child Protective Services would be able to get to the bottom of the situation. In Dark Skies, the normal rules do not apply very well.

As the family dynamic falls apart, Lacy and Daniel are forced to deal with the unraveling strings of their own financial, emotional, and mental deterioration. Add in injury resulting blackouts, lost time, supposed hallucinations, and strange unexplained events, and you have an intriguing and engrossing film. Stewart makes sure to walk the audience through the painted and manicured facade of suburban life during the opening titles, letting us know that alien presences do not just relegate themselves to the Arizona desert; and that the fear of the unknown and mob paranoia is contagious regardless of geography and tax bracket. Like the Twilight Zone episode 'The Monsters on Maple Street', human nature is designed for self preservation and suspicion for anything out of the ordinary.

Stewart has a nice visual style, conveying the right mood with color, framing, and saturation. The nights are filled with striking blue hues, inside the house and out on the streets. Pollard's apartment is filled with newspaper clippings and a hazy and dusty atmosphere, the warm sepia tones denoting an aged worn look that reflects the war weary alien hunter and his eventual submission to the inevitable. The 'grey' aliens are used in perfect proportion, left out until they will provide the most impact.

The cast was well selected. Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton are perfect at everyday parents. They are nothing overly special or out of the ordinary. Just an ordinary family trying to make it. Dakota Goyo's Jesse has just the right amount of vexing adolescent angst against his parents to cause additional tension without ripping the family cleanly in half at the onset. Kadan Rockett's younger Sam is up for the task of being the aliens obsession, but doesn't compare to the little kid in Close Encounters or Danny from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. The highpoint of the film is J.K. Simmons Edward Pollard. He states the existence of the 'greys' in such a matter-of-fact way, I would believe anything he told me. He also conveys the perfect beaten warrior, accepting of the eventual end of all things. His scene with Russell and Hamilton in his feline-filled apartment is worth the price of admission.

Dark Skies is a quiet suspense thriller centered around possible alien possession and abduction. The story is solid and the ending has some enjoyable twists and turns. Well cast and well directed, extraterrestrial lovers may want to taken to their leader.

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