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Movies about extraterrestrials never seem to be out of trend. For decades, if not centuries, the possibility of intelligent life existing on other planets excited and scared people at the same time. It is difficult to measure the proportions in which this excitement, interest, and fear coexist, but judging from cinema—which is, undoubtedly, a certain slice of mass consciousness—the latter seems to prevail. The amount of movies about alien invasions, wars between Earth and extraterrestrial civilizations, mind-controlling parasites from space, and so on are so numerous that it is almost impossible to count them. Alien visits and abductions are among the most popular topics in cinema, and the movie reviewed below—“Dark Skies,” filmed in 2013 by Scott Stewart—is probably one of the most intriguing films released within the past five years.

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“Dark Skies” is a thriller/horror movie—80% of the action occurs in the house of an average American family. Those in love with stunts, visual effects, and CGI will probably be disappointed—none of them are present in the movie. “Dark Skies” is intelligent; it does not use cheap jump scares to squeeze jitters out of you, but rather tries to convince you in the existence, or even constant nearby presence, of an unseen menacing mind in cold blood ruining the lives of people all over the world in the name of incomprehensible, inhumane research.

Daniel and Lacy are a family going through tough times. Daniel Barret (Josh Hamilton) is an unemployed architect seeking a job, while his wife Lacy (Keri Russell) does her best to sustain them and their two children—Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and Sammy (Kadan Rockett)—by working as a real estate realtor. One night, Lacy wakes up from a strange noise downstairs, and when she walks into the kitchen, she sees food from the fridge scattered on the floor. Barrets believes it was done by stray animals, so the next night they lock the entrance door. However, Lacy wakes up again, and this time she sees a disturbing scene in the kitchen: a weird construction made of tin cans, food packages, and other stuff; reflecting in the construction, the light from a chandelier forms complex geometric ornaments on the ceiling. Sammy, the younger son of the couple, says that it was him who did this, “because the Sandman told him to.”

Within several days, more mysterious events occur. Lunatism, short-term amnesia, nightmares, house alarms constantly going off, strange marks on the bodies of both children, bird flocks attacking the house, and other unexplained accidents knock the ground from Daniel’s and Lacy’s feet. Scared, they install video cameras around the house to see whether someone is visiting them at night. Lacy searches for similar cases on the Internet, and realizes they have become subjects of aliens’ interest. She tells about her suspicions to David, but he refuses to believe her; one morning, however, he watches the recordings from the cameras, and sees hazy dark shades bending over each of the sleeping family members.

Scared, the Barrets visit a ufologist (J.K. Simmons), who confirms their fears. What he tells them is terrifying. People believe that when aliens—“the grays,” as the ufologist calls them—attack Earth, there will be war; but the truth is that the invasion has already happened. Aliens have been on Earth for a long time, abducting people and turning their lives into nightmares. He tells Lacy and David they are not the only ones suffering from alien attention. Hundreds of cases all over the world occur by the same scheme, and the only thing the family can do is to try to struggle, to make things so messy for the aliens that they lose interest and find other subjects. It does not work, however: mesmerized and overwhelmed by aliens, the family cannot fight back properly, and one of the kids gets abducted.

Before reviewing the pluses of the “Dark Skies,” there is one huge gaping minus that needs to be pointed out. Technologically advanced, mind-controlling, and teleporting aliens could have simply taken the child they were interested in, without having to terrorize the whole family for days. The idea that aliens were playing with the Barrets like a cat with a mouse does not really explain anything, though it could mean they are studying their responses. But it is not even hinted at in the film that they are doing something for a reason. It would have been good to have at least some clues about their intentions.

Apart from this, the movie is good. Not the best one (for example, “Fourth Kind” absolutely beats “Dark Skies”), but definitely worth watching. It is the details that make the movie get under your skin and give you chills. I absolutely loved the scene with David Barret’s blackout, when Lacy found him standing in the street in the middle of the night, with his mouth wide open and numb, terror in his eyes. I loved the shadowy unclear silhouettes of the aliens captured on video cameras, and the way they looked when shown, briefly, in the end of the movie: disfigured, yet still humanoid elongated shapes, standing in the doorway in the rays of light. The scene with the ufologist explaining the eerie truth about alien invasion is one of my favorite ones in the whole movie: an old retired man opening the Barrets’ eyes with a tired voice of a person who gave up struggling. I think it is the attention to details that made me like this film.

When I was watching “Dark Skies,” I noticed myself comparing it with Shyamalan’s “Signs.” The latter can boast of a much better cast and overall quality, but it seriously lacks one essential component that “Dark Skies” has: the atmosphere. In “Signs” there seems to be no specific focus in the story; whether the director tells a story of a man losing and re-obtaining his faith in God, or shows a family haunted by aliens, or depicts alien invasion—I cannot tell for sure. Inappropriate comic elements, silly details such as aliens unable to open a cardboard door, long unnecessary dialog that do not contribute to the development of the plot—all this seriously spoiled the impression of “Signs” for me. “Dark Skies” remain focused on just one subject: a regular family facing an unknown threat and realizing their helplessness, but still trying to protect their children. Each scene builds suspense, leading to the abduction and a horrifying (for me, at least) ending.

The actors are not brilliant, but skilled; you can easily track confusion, fear, anxiety, and resolve on their faces, as they recognize and face the alien menace. Kadan Rockett’s character looks detached even when he was not required by the plot, but his career is just beginning, so hopefully he will master the art of acting (and he is still much better than that irritating kid in Kubrik’s “The Shining”).

I recommend watching “Dark Skies” at night, with headphones, and with the lights turned off. Putting aside criticism, set yourself into a little bit of forgiving state of mind, and try to put yourself in the shoes of the main characters. Under these conditions, I bet you will like “Dark Skies.”

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