Video Verdict: ‘Dark Skies’

Keri Russell plays the mother of a family haunted by strange happenings in the horror film “Dark Skies.”

Keri Russell plays the mother of a family haunted by strange happenings in the horror film “Dark Skies.”

A horror film about malevolent aliens is the only major theatrical release moving to home video this week.

Dark Skies

3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for violence, terror throughout, sexual material, drug content and language – all involving teens
Anchor Bay
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and on demand

The marketing for “Dark Skies” makes a big deal out of producer Jason Blum’s involvement in the horror hits “Paranormal Activity” and “Insidious.” Emphasizing this makes sense because the three movies share the same structure, which involves placing characters in unsettling situations and slowly intensifying the danger.

The focus in “Dark Skies” is on Daniel and Lacy Barrett (Josh Hamilton and Keri Russell), a financially struggling couple whose problems multiply when strange things begin happening in their home. At first, the unusual occurrences are odd but relatively benign. For instance, Lacy awakens to find the refrigerator door open and groceries littered about. As the movie progresses, however, the events become more sinister, and the Barretts begin to fear for the safety of their two young children, Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and Sam (Kadan Rockett).

Desperate and frightened, they turn to local law enforcement, but the police can’t help since there are no signs of foul play. Eventually, Lacy becomes convinced that aliens are treating them like laboratory rats, and she turns to a UFO expert named Edwin Pollard (J.K. Simmons).

The formula behind “Dark Skies” is straightforward, and it varies only slightly from the one used in countless other horror films. Because of that, the movie elicits a distinct sense of déjà vu, and that’s never a good thing.

Still, writer-director Scott Stewart manages to create an eerie atmosphere that should leave all but the most grizzled viewers feeling spooked. Most of the recent movies in this vein focus on evil spirits, so the alien-invader angle is a welcome twist that makes it accessible to science-fiction junkies as well as horror fans.

Stewart also benefits from a solid cast, led by Russell. She is always a pleasure to watch, and she makes Lacy seem real, creating empathy for the Barretts and their plight. This is important because horror movies that ask viewers to invest in characters are always more frightening than those that simply jump from one scare to the next.

“Dark Skies” unveils its horror slowly, creating a suspenseful ride that feels satisfying even though we’re traveling a familiar road.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and an audio commentary by Stewart, Blum, executive producer Brian Kavanaugh-Jones and editor Peter Gvozdas.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Longmire” – The Complete First Season: Initial 10 episodes of the A&E drama about a Wyoming sheriff (Robert Taylor) doing his best to work in the wake of his wife’s death. Based on Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire novels.

“The High Fructose Adventures of Annoying Orange” – The Complete First Season: Annoying Orange – the show about an obnoxious citrus fruit – graduated from Web series to Cartoon Network hit with this collection of episodes.

“Life is Sweet”: The Criterion Collection delivers a freshly restored transfer of writer-director Mike Leigh’s 1990 portrait of a working-class family living in a London suburb. Jim Broadbent, Alison Steadman, Claire Skinner and Jane Horrocks star.

“The Numbers Station”: Thriller about a CIA agent (John Cusack) charged with guarding a top-secret code operator (Malin Akerman) at a facility that comes under attack. Directed by Kasper Barfoed.

“Red Widow” – The Complete First Season: Despite the hopeful name on the DVD packaging, the eight episodes on this two-disc set represent the entirety of this canceled ABC series. The plot centers on a housewife (Radha Mitchell) who takes over her husband’s organized crime dealings after he is killed. Goran Visnjic, Clifton Collins Jr. and Luke Goss also star.

“Suits” – Season Two: The continuing adventures of star attorney Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) and his partner Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams), a legal associate who doesn’t actually possess a law degree. This set features 16 episodes on four DVDs.

“Lore”: Drama about a young German girl who learns the disappointing truth about her Nazi parents and struggles to survive in the aftermath of World War II. Written and directed by Cate Shortland.

“Rolling Thunder”: Blu-ray debut of director John Flynn’s 1977 action film about a war veteran (William Devane) who takes revenge on the thugs who kill his wife and son during a robbery. Tommy Lee Jones also stars.

“The Ultimate Guide to the Presidents”: History Channel miniseries about the U.S. presidency and the 43 men who have become Commander In Chief of the nation.

“Bubble Guppies – Sunny Days!”: Six episodes of Nickolodeon’s animated TV series about youthful mermaids and mermen having fun.

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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