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Director Stewart doesn’t deliver on promise

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TO SKIES3

DARK SKIES

DIRECTOR: Scott Stewart

CAST: Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, JK Simmons, Dakota Goyo, Kadan Rockett, Josh Stamberg, LJ Benet

CLASSIFICATION: 16V

RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes

RATING: **

AUDIENCES have a pretty good idea of what to expect when genre director, Scott Stewart, teams up with Paranormal Activity franchise originator, Blumhouse Productions, on an alien-abduction suspenser. Despite true believers and core horror and fantasy demos evincing opening-weekend curiosity, enthusiasm is likely to diminish noticeably with lukewarm word of mouth, although ancillary prospects appear robust.

Just like folks everywhere, Daniel and Lacy Barrett are a loving couple with a growing family and too many bills to pay. Daniel (Hamilton) has been laid off from his job as an architect and realtor Lacy (Russell) is constantly strug- gling to make a home sale, but properties aren’t moving in their nondescript suburban town.

With two young sons to look out for – teen Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and his kid brother Sam (Kadan Rockett) – they’re fighting foreclosure on their house and other mounting debts.

So it seems like just one more inconvenience when strange things begin happening in their home: the contents of their fridge and cupboards disgorge into the kitchen late at night, family photos inexplicably disappear from their frames, and false alarms trigger the home security system.

Things go from messy to spooky when Sam explains the mysterious developments by saying that the “Sandman” has been paying him nightly visits, causing his parents increasing concern.

Daniel’s gambit of rigging the house with security cameras reveals a nocturnal energy force coursing through the home, but it’s the mass suicide of dozens of birds mysteriously smacking into the exterior of the building and bouts of trance-like disassociation that they are all suffering that really unnerve the couple.

Lacy’s internet research reveals similar incidents plaguing other families, all associated with alien visitation, but it isn’t until reclusive ET expert Edwin Pollard (JK Simmons) provides the menacing context for the strange rashes, nosebleeds and marks on their bodies that Daniel and Lacy go into overdrive in an attempt to protect the safety of their family.

While mostly skirting the effects-dependent plot devices of his earlier releases, Legion and Priest, Stewart borrows heavily from notable supernatural and sci-fi predecessors, managing to noticeably devalue the effectiveness of the alien-abduction sub-genre with overly deliberate pacing, miscued suspense and fairly predictable plotting.

Never quite sure if he’s relying more on horror or sci-fi con- ventions to drive the narrative, Stewart can’t seem to muster much tension by relying predominantly on his intermittently effective cast.

Russell generates some per- suasive emotion as mother Lacy in a few key scenes, but is held back by Hamilton’s stiff performance and is nearly upstaged by Simmons’ simmering, low-key appearance.

Approaching the first half of the film fairly conventionally, Stewart then misses the chance to capitalise on shifting to more full-on genre mode, although cinematogra- pher David Boyd’s visuals are solid throughout and composer Joseph Bishara’s unnerving score supports the action without overwhelming it.

The film’s brief coda succinctly caps the few final twists while unsubtly tipping its sequel potential. – Hollywood Reporter

If you liked, The Possession or [Rec], you will like this.

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