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Neither execrable enough to warrant being so unceremoniously dumped into theaters, nor so thoroughly un-excerable that we should be outraged by its treatment, Scott Stewart’s Dark Skies offers passable home-invasion horror of the Close Encounters variety, right down to the screws that loosen themselves, the UFO heat lamps suffusing doorways with light, and the bubbling leftovers dumped from the fridge.
Of course, without the distractions of Spielberg’s technique and goony optimism, audiences have too much time to wonder why the aliens here bother playing creepy faerie tricks on this suburban family — snatching photos from frames and hours from lives — before moving in for their real goal, a rote child snatching. Stewart has some lofty ambitions, some of which he almost fulfills. There’s a couple good scares, including one doozy from The Birds, but also too much breezed-past off-the-rack weirdness, including a series of Paranormal Activity-style temporary possessions that demand the actors must stand there, freeze-tag style, with eyes bugged out and mouths wide open.
A welcome J.K. Simmons, playing a Hunter S. Thompson-looking alien abductee, explains that to humanity the motivations of aliens — in this case the “grays” — would make as much sense as a scientist’s to a lab rat, but then just moments later announces the galactic pranksters’ motivations anyway: Obviously, they’re trying to “isolate” this family from the rest of the block — and from each other. That means the final act is of bonding and boarding, the kids and parents getting closer as they barricade the windows of the house.
Keri Russell, as the mother, has moments of excellence; she carves a real performance from a role that mostly demands she wander a dark house in fetching tank tops. Dakota Goyo, as the oldest of the kids, dares to be bluntly uncharismatic in the way of actual 13 year old boys; he’s given an awkward first kiss, a lyric stoned bike ride, and an arc whose real-life humanity suggests that Stewart aspired to make a movie that might mean something to someone. Too bad that what exists of that movie — the one exemplified by a smartly disorienting climactic setpiece steeped in the sex fears of pubescence — is only about half as long as this one.