A nice middle-class family finds itself severely distracted from the usual joys and stresses and ups and downs of life when it is visited by some scary unseen forces.
Sound familiar? Writer-director Scott Stewart (“Legion”) provides his take on the spooky genre that taps into the fears of discovering your home is not always a safe haven. It is just too bad that his “Dark Skies” had nothing new to offer.
Lacy and Daniel Barrett (Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton) are putting up a brave front in their neighborhood. With Daniel having been laid off, Lacy’s income as a Realtor becomes more critical. Meanwhile, their oldest son, Jesse (Dakota Goyo), is on the cusp of rebellious teenage-hood and hanging out with the typical bad influence friend, Kevin Ratner (L.J. Benet). Youngest son Sam (Kadan Rockett) is more fragile and suffering nightmares that feature something he calls The Sandman.
Strange things start occurring in the Barrett house, and as the screenwriter, Stewart elected to go the derivative path with these unnerving events. Food from the refrigerator is strewn on the floor (“Close Encounters”). Furniture and other objects are stacked up like pop art (“Poltergeist”).
Per usual, the succeeding events grow more intense and perilous despite the security upgrades, a la “Paranormal Activity,” that are installed.
In these scenarios, the woman is the first to grasp the ramifications of the events, the first to speculate the engineers behind these incidents may not be mortal or even human, while the male goes into massive denial or elects to humor the woman. That is, until the man himself gets an up close and personal experience that changes his mind, or worse.
This leads to the obligatory visit to a fringe “expert,” one who remains dedicated to his or her studies of these abnormal incidents despite the ridicule. The Barretts visit Edwin Pollard (J.K. Simmons), and although Simmons can command a confident persona on screen, here he offers no gallant charge to use his vast knowledge and rid the Barretts of these terrible visitations. Instead, he pretty much tells them there is not much they can do.
At this point “Dark Skies” might as well end. We know things are going to unravel for the Barretts. So the final battle is set up and it also is a rehash of “Close Encounters” with a little “X-Files” thrown in.
If Stewart wanted to delve into the realm of home invasions by malevolent spirits, aliens or psychopaths, he should have come up with some new twists. He did not.
Credit Stewart with developing some very real characters in the Barretts. Russell and Hamilton do blend well together as a couple well accustomed to each other’s good and bad traits. They handle the roles without hysterics, trying to rationalize the events while realizing things may be much worse than they can imagine.
A sweet touch in “Dark Skies” is the relationship between the brothers Jesse and Sam. Jesse, at an age when he might distance himself from his younger brother instead continues to be a devoted to Sam. They communicate on walkie-talkies at night from their respective bedrooms, with Jesse entertaining his little brother with spooky stories that unfortunately get upstaged by real terror in their house.