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Why Did “Dark Skies” Fall?

February 24, 2013

Horror movies are one of the few safe bets in Hollywood these days. No matter who the stars are or what the critics say, they’re almost guaranteed to open above $10 million (and they often don’t cost much more than that). Yet Dark Skies—from the producer of the Paranormal Activity series—bombed, finishing sixth with a measly $8.8 million. Why were moviegoers scared away?

Maybe because they sensed that it’s not really a horror film. Though the Weinstein Co. misleadingly tried to market it as a Paranormal-type shocker, it’s more of a quiet throwback to early Spielberg works like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T.: The Extraterresterial and Poltergeist (which Spielberg technically didn’t direct, although many believe he stepped in for Tobe Hooper). And as such, it’s not a bad little movie. But if you go expecting big screams, you’re going to think it (to borrow a word from a teenager walking out of the New Jersey multiplex where I saw it) “super-sucked.” In fact, it got a mediocre C+ from CinemaScore audiences.

Keri Russell—on whom I’m developing a late-blooming crush, based on this film and her cool, cruel performance as a Soviet spy in FX’s excellent ’80s period piece The Americans—stars as a struggling real-estate agent living in the Spielburbs with her unemployed-architect husband (the likable Josh Hamilton) and their two sons, a surly teenager and an adorable moppet. The scariest parts of Dark Skies deal with this family unraveling under the weight of unpaid mortgage bills, a frustrating job and real-estate market and mounting health-care costs. When you pile nightly visits from aliens to your home on top of all that, anyone would buckle under the stress.

Written and directed by Scott Stewart (Priest), Dark Skies moves deliberately and builds to a somewhat unsatisfying climax, but the performers—including the always-reliable J.K. Simmons, who enters an hour into the 95-minute film as an alien expert and a dead ringer for Dr. Hunter S. Thompson—make it enjoyable to watch.

So don’t be afraid of the Dark. If you know what you’re getting yourself into—a well-acted bit of sci-fi nostalgia—chances are you won’t be alienated.

Did you see Dark Skies? If not, why not? Post a comment!

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