Dark Skies is the latest in a rather long line of bland horror flicks from the producers of Insidious and the prolific Paranormal Activity series. Dark Skies shares similar DNA with its predecessors, but this time around it has been given an extra-terrestrial, conspiracy-theory twist by writer/director Scott Stewart, whose previous work includes Paul Bettany collaborations Legion and Priest. Dark Skies follows the Barrets: a middle-class, middle-income, suburban family whose peaceful domestic life is unsettled by a succession of troubling events. As these other worldly occurrences become more disturbing, the family begin to suspect that the terrifying forces hounding them might not be of this world.
Despite being dressed up as a sci-fi horror flick, Dark Skies never deviates from the inexplicably successful formula of the Paranormal Activity series, so much so that there is a sequence in which terrified patriarch, Daniel, sets up a security surveillance system in the house in an attempt to monitor the, well, paranormal activity. The mostly-unknown cast deliver passable performances and do their best with a generic script, but any sense of dread feels synthesized and the film solely relies on shocks and jumps to scare its audience. Spinder-Man's J. K. Simmons does his best to keep a straight face as conspiracy theorist Edwin Pollard, but it is not apparent whose story Stewart is trying to tell, and as a result he gives us little time to get to know any of the central family. The integrity of the plot disintegrates on further inspection, as it's hard to understand why an advanced alien race would allow the family to put up a fight when we've already established that they can control their bodies via implants.
The chief problem with Dark Skies is its unfading sense of familiarity and despite a few red herrings, horror fans will have little trouble joining the dots from the off. The film is littered with genre clichés, and the obligatory twist is immediately foreseeable from the glaring contrivances in the plot. Dark Skies ultimately feels like an extended episode of The X-Files, and one of the weaker ones, at that. There is an attempt to explore the power of the family bond in the face of evil, but you'd have to posses Christ-like powers of compassion to remotely care about the intolerably boring Barrets.
Dark Skies is unfocused, bland and generic with no scares and few memorable moments, but the fact that it's above average for today's mainstream US horror flicks is perhaps the saddest indictment of the state of the genre.
Follow Jack Pelling on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JRPelling