February 28, 2013

'Dark Skies' mostly silly and familiar


---- — “By the producers of ‘Paranormal Activity’” doesn’t necessarily set the highest expectations, but the supernatural thriller “Dark Skies” doesn’t even do justice to its advertising slogan.

A slow-moving combination of the haunted-house and alien-abduction genres, the film has some creepy moments, a scare or two and some game performances by a solid cast.

Written and directed by Scott Stewart (the man behind terrible films “Legion” and “Priest”), however, “Dark Skies” is mostly silly and familiar, leaving the viewer wanting less, not more.

The movie tells the tale of a suburban family already struggling with real-world problems like unemployment and puberty.

Keri Russell (TV’s “Felicity” and “The Americans”) plays Lacy Barrett, an ineffective real-estate agent trying to make ends meet and take care of her two kids. Josh Hamilton (“J. Edgar”) is her husband, Daniel, a good man who can’t find a job.

Soon the family problems multiply, as unexplained bad things begin to happen in the home. Birds crash into the windows. Alarms go off for no reason. Youngest son Sam has nightmares in which he talks to the spooky Sandman.

Is the house haunted? Are psychologically troubled children making mischief? Is it just some playful alien invaders? The neighbors are starting to talk ...

Russell and Hamilton aren’t bad as the troubled couple. They’re sympathetic and behave somewhat like you would expect people to behave facing this level of lunacy.

Late in the film, the always good J.K. Simmons enters as an eccentric expert on the situation, but in this case he seems to be going through the motions and just trying to further the absurd plot.

Without many original ideas, “Dark Skies” falls back on the familiar webcams and slow-motion nighttime footage as Lacy and Daniel seek to find answers. The answers, though, aren’t worth the buildup, and they’re certainly not worth a sequel — which the ending seems to beg for.

Rental Recommendation: M. Night Shyamalan was still in a groove when he made the low-tech alien-invasion movie “Signs.” Grade: A

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Dark Skies Grade: C Starring: Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, J.K. Simmons Rated: PG-13 (for violence, terror throughout, sexual material, drug content and language -- all involving teens) Running time: 95 minutes