Dark Skies is a surprisingly effective sci-fi thriller that relies on suspense rather than special effects to wow. The brazen tactic to lift scenes from classic movies, however, can be quite jarring.
Kerri Russell and Josh Hamilton are feeling the recession. His art designer has lost his job and her real estate agent hasn't sold a house in some time - the last thing this family needs is youngest son Goyo to be haunted by nightmares of 'the sandman' and arranging furniture in the middle of the night. When the sleepwalking spreads to mum and dad and strange marks begin to appear on their bodies they begin to suspect that things are going more than bump in the night.
Writer-director Scott Stewart is a fan of the fantastic. His bizarre 'Legion' saw a battle between archangels take place in a roadside restaurant while follow up movie 'Priest' had Paul Bettany play the titular vampire hunter in a dystopian future; Stewart tones it down somewhat for Dark Skies and turns in his most rounded movie to date.
He tries to do everything right: there's a concentration on the financial pressure the family is under, playing with the idea that it's stress that has the dad subconsciously striking out at his family. There's also the idea that this is a fantasy one of the son's has created to shield himself against a horrible reality. Stewart also leaves it as late as possible to show you what exactly is terrorising the family. This is good. What's not so good are the 'nods' to 'Poltergeist', 'The Birds', 'Paranormal Activity' and the use of the horror clichés du jour - the spooky drawings of a child and imaginary friends. There's a fine line between homage and a blatant rip.
One day a film historian will look back and note that Dark Skies belongs to the post 9/11 wave of movies that include 'Attack The Block', 'The Fourth Kind', 'Skyline' and the remakes of 'The Thing' and 'Red Dawn', movies that display a renewed xenophobic paranoia of 'the other'.
Moody and low key, Dark Skies will fill a hole.