Are there any anxieties that the suburbs cannot be made a metaphor for? In the new film “Dark Skies,” a family dealing with money troubles, domestic discord and social unease is forced to face down what the spoiler police have requested be referred to as “a dark force” in their struggle to achieve modern perfection.
Pursuing the right fixtures in the kitchen, the right school for the kids, the right friends and connections, they are forced to fight for their right to remain a family unit in suburbia, with mysterious entities looking to spirit them to parts unknown, perhaps even a less desirable ZIP Code.
The wife (Keri Russell) is trying to pick up the financial slack of her laid-off architect husband (Josh Hamilton) by working as a real estate agent, and in addition to the straight-outta Restoration Hardware look of their house, the story’s second main location is a run-down fixer-upper she is desperate to sell. Its once-groovy, now-tacky style is a taunting reflection of their attempts to keep up, as even their projected anxieties project anxieties about measuring up or seeming out of step.
The film was written and directed by Scott Stewart (who previously directed the fantasy-laden “Priest” and “Legion”), and his background in visual effects serves him well here — he creates a cohesive world that never seems cartoonish even at its most outlandish. “Dark Skies” is, like producer Jason Blum’s “Paranormal Activity” films, confined to a few locations both for dramatic unity and likely to keep the budget down; just as much is done with lights flickering under a door as the appearance of ominous creatures.
Really the biggest problem with “Dark Skies” is that Stewart can never quite decide just what story he is telling — a slow-burn horror parable or paranoid invasion flick — or whether to focus on this character or that, instead struggling to string together scares regardless of how they fit together overall. And everything is signaled a little too heavily by Joseph Bishara’s score.
The film hits a freak-out groove in its final third, gaining a steady momentum. Though it is saved in part by the performances of Russell and Hamilton, with a quietly effective supporting turn by J.K. Simmons, the clouded storytelling in “Dark Skies” keeps the film from becoming more than a bunch of disjointed moments.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for violence, terror throughout, sexual material, drug content and language — all involving teens
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Playing: In wide release