I have a hard time believing that ghosts have nothing better to do than harass suburban homeowners. Dark Skies takes that well-worn concept and goes even more impractical, suggesting that aliens from other planets come into your home and rearrange your pantry in the middle of the night. This preposterous foundation never sat well with me, no matter how many times this film tried to explain it.
Domestic horror has become a thorn in my side as of late. Paranormal Activity and its ilk are so transparent in their attempts to scare us with the familiar; I’m ready to see something fresh. Dark Skies simply takes the idea and swaps the paranormal activity for extraterrestrial activity. It never considers the endless avenues a sci-fi/alien angle could provide. Instead, it sticks to the script of bumps in the night, increasingly strange behavior, and all the other nuts and bolts of the genre, minus the “found footage” shtick.
Other movies have brought aliens down to our level without seeming so offensive. Signs, for example, more or less managed to pull off the same concept and do it with half the amount of eye-rolling.
At the same time, this film does do a decent job of being creepy. I have to give it credit for showing some restraint and instilling dread where it could have gone for cheap scares. There are no fake-out scares in Dark Skies. It doesn't build up tension and then slam a door to scare you. When the creepy stuff happens, it is genuine. Had this simply been about ghosts and didn’t arrive in the wake of so many similar films (and multiple comedies parodying the idea), it might have been one of the better entries in the genre.
Writing for a game website, and drowning myself in horror games as of late, I can’t help thinking of the Silent Hill series. Inner demons are the perfect enemy, and I wish more horror films would go with that. You don’t question motivations when the terror is coming from within a troubled mind. Dark Skies briefly plays with that idea, but make no mistake, this is very much a movie where the villains are creepy aliens.
The alien’s skinny frames and shrouded features remind me of another game, Slender, where the enemy is simply a mysterious pursuer. Had Dark Skies never explained what its creatures were, I could have safely been creeped out, without adjusting my scientist goggles in frustration.
The concept of creepy aliens is full of horrific possibilities. Distant travelers abducting and experimenting on people have been the subject of many far-fetched but amazingly creepy documentary programs. Films like Fire in the Sky gave me nightmares as a kid, and it was because of the otherworldly terror on display. There's so much potential, making this film feel like a grab for low-hanging fruit.
By limiting alien frights to a typical family in a typical house, Dark Skies limits itself to a typical horror film.