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Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013 02:54 am

Sluggish Skies fails to realize potential

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There’s a fine line between building suspense and testing an audience’s patience as well as having the instinct to know when you’ve crossed it. With his first two features, Legion and Priest, director Scott Stewart proved that he has a way with creating intriguing set pieces but had yet to master any sense of pacing. His thin stories were stretched past the breaking point resulting in ultimately tedious movies. With his latest, the alien abduction thriller Dark Skies, it becomes evident that the director is following the pace of his own drummer and it’s far too slow for me.

At its core, the story is an engaging one as it focuses on the Barrett family, which is falling apart at the seams. Lacy (Keri Russell) is a real estate salesperson who’s too soft-hearted to go in for the kill where closing a deal is concerned, while Daniel’s (Josh Hamilton) self-esteem has taken a serious hit what with being unemployed for a prolonged period. Their teen son Jesse (Dakota Goyo) has become a mystery to them, as he’s navigating adolescence with attitude to spare while young Sam (Kadan Rockett) has his hands full just being 6 years old. While foreclosure seems eminent for the Barretts, things take a turn for the worse when a series of supernatural events take place in their home that eventually lead Lacy to think aliens are visiting them.

Unfortunately, her suspicions are well founded as objects go missing in their home, mysterious beings are seen on the many video cameras Daniel installs and horrific marks are found on the bodies of both of the boys. Stewart doles these tidbits out a bit too slowly resulting in a film that fails to build any sense of suspense. The fact that we know where the movie is headed certainly doesn’t help and while the film’s big reveal is done effectively, the sense is that it’s a bit too little after all that wait.

What’s ironic about the film is that its producer, Jason Blum, was one of the makers of Paranormal Activity, which did such an effective job of using the found footage aesthetic so effectively. Telling that ghost story by splicing together the various points of view from multiple cameras put the viewer and the characters on equal footing, as in limiting the point of view, it made for a more claustrophobic, suspenseful setting. Skies could have easily adopted this aesthetic and would have been far more effective as a result. As it is, the film ends up being a by-the-numbers affair that wastes a potentially effective premise.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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