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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Dark Skies

May 26th, 2013

Dark Skies - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack

Dark Skies opened in theaters with no reviews, it missed the top five during its opening weekend, and then quickly disappeared from theaters. This week, it reaches the home market, but is it as bad as that sounds? Or should the studio have more faith in the film?

The Movie

The film focuses on the Barrett family: Lacy and Daniel and their two sons, Jesse and Sam. The family is in a difficult financial situation, as Danial has been laid off from work and Lacy has been trying to keep the family afloat as a real estate agent, but the rough financial times is hurting her business as well. This pressure is causing some problems with their marriage and taking away time they would normally spend with their two kids. As a result, Jesse is having problems growing up. He really only has one friend, and he's not a good influence. (He's not a juvenile delinquent, but more of stoner / slacker.) Worse still, Jesse is Sam's main influence, and while he's a good big brother, he's a typical big brother. (Jesse and Sam stay awake late at night talking over walkie-talkies, while Jesse tells Sam scary stories.)

Early in the movie, Lacy wakes up, goes to the kitchen and finds their fridge open and food all over the floor. The veggies are eaten, but the bacon and the rest of the meat is left behind. The next night, Lacy wakes up and this time there are cans and dishes and glasses stacked up so when she turns on the lights, there's a geometric pattern on the ceiling. When Sam comes into the kitchen, Lacy asks if he knows who did this, and he says it was the Sandman. This time they call the police, but they think it was one of the kids who was sleepwalking. The cops leave, but suggest they spend the money to turn on their alarm system. (They stopped to save money.) The next night, the alarm system goes off, but the alarm company thinks it was a false alarm, because all eight entry points were triggered at the same time. Nothing was stolen, except for all of the pictures in their frames. The cops again think it was one of their kids acting out. Lacy and Daniel confront Jesse and Sam and this time Same tells them the Sandman took the pictures. Lacy thinks Sam might need therapy, but Daniel isn't sure. What happens next convinces him something is wrong.

The details of what happens next enter into spoiler territory. How the family reacts isn't. Lacy turns to the internet to find answers, while Daniel sets up security cameras all over the house to catch whatever it is that is causing this weirdness. ... Yep, it's another film where we spend a lot of time looking at security camera footage.

One of the downsides to being a movie critic is seeing far too many movies. As a result, it is sometimes really hard to review a movie without being reminded of many other similar films. In this case, one would have to have seen nearly no movies to not have a strong sense of déjà vu here. Additionally, the film moves at a very slow pace. For large chunks of the film, almost nothing happens, except for the occasional jump scare. Perhaps if the filmmakers were more adept at generating tension, this wouldn't be a problem, but as it is, the film is just dull. There are some parts of the movie I did like. For instance, J.K. Simmons plays the expert in the movie, and I can't remember the last time I saw a movie with him in it and he wasn't great. Even when he is saddled with a weak script, like in this movie, he's able to elevate the scenes he's in. Too bad he's barely more than a cameo in this movie. Likewise, Keri Russell is very good in this movie and does elevate the material, but these two can only do so much.

The Extras

The film missed expectations at the box office, so it should come as no surprise that the extras are light. There are just an audio commentary track and some deleted / alternative scenes on the DVD and the Blu-ray. That's weak for a first run release.

The technical presentation... It's a BD-25. So while the film was shot digitally and therefore there's no issue with grain or print damage, there are some issues with compression that hurt the overall image quality a bit. There are still a high level of details and good colors, while the blacks are deep. The last one is important, because there are a lot of scenes at night. The audio is solid with enough activity in the 5.1 surround sound track to be quite engaging. In fact, the audio helps build tension better than the script does. The dialogue is clear and there's a good amount of bass in the audio track.

The Blu-ray costs $5 or 33% more than the DVD, which is not a bad deal, but not a good deal either.

The Verdict

Watching Dark Skies will likely remind you that there are too many other films that deal with a similar subject, but do it better. I do like the more sci-fi take on the horror genre, and there are some strong performances in the film, but it is not enough for a recommendation. Additionally, there are not enough extras on the DVD or the Blu-ray Combo Pack.

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Filed under: Video Review, Dark Skies, Dakota Goyo, Josh Hamilton, Keri Russell, J.K. Simmons, Kadan Rockett