“Dark Skies” is really a cross between “The X-Files,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and “Paranormal Activity,” but without any of the good parts. It’s a horror movie without the horror, a thriller without the thrill, the kind of movie that will have you asking, “Was there really nothing better to see today?” Yet it’s mildly entertaining and appealing enough that you won’t walk out of the theater.

Dark Skies

Rave 20 and Quality 16
Dimension Films

The film stars Keri Russell (“Waitress”) and relative newcomer Josh Hamilton as Lacy and Daniel Barrett, with Dakota Goyo (“Thor”) and newcomer Kadan Rockett as their two sons, Jesse and Sam. They live in a quiet, suburban town and are faced with some economic issues but seem to be doing alright. Then, one night, Lacy awakens to a strange noise, ventures downstairs and … all her cans and silverware have been stacked meticulously in the form of unusual symbols. Then there are instances of the lights flickering, the house alarm going off, mysterious bruises appearing — nothing you haven’t seen before.

There’s also a side story about Daniel not being able to find work and Jesse having some pre-teen experiences (like his first kiss); neither of these threads have anything to do with the plot and are only modest attempts at character development. Anyway, more odd events occur, like hundreds of birds fly into the windows.

Speaking of that bird scene, it’s an issue when an intended scary moment elicits laughter from the audience. Seriously, the entire theater was laughing at the mass bird suicide. That pretty much sums up the scares in this movie: They were timed correctly, but executed poorly, and you can’t call yourself a horror movie, certainly not a good one, when nobody screams.

As far as characters go, Russell and Hamilton have only a little chemistry and simply aren’t fit to play these characters. The audience should fear what they fear, but we end up looking at blank faces that can’t convey any anxiety or emotion. One brief yet standout cameo performance comes from J.K. Simmons (“Burn After Reading”) as that one man whom everyone thinks is crazy but actually knows the truth. He plays Edwin Pollard with defeat and resignation, a man with all the answers but who lost the fight a long time ago. He knows the Barrett family’s situation is hopeless, he’s seen this plight before. “You’re not special,” he tells them.

Indeed, neither is this movie. The always-necessary final stand against the unknown menace is … well, it’s better than the rest of the movie; certainly it adds more tension and has some heart-pounding moments. It starts to turn into a psychological thriller, but then snaps right back into already tread horror territory.

“Dark Skies” manages to keep your interest somehow, maybe by not really showing what the aliens look like, maybe by teasing you into thinking that it’ll finally scare you. But then the credits roll, and you leave unsatisfied. It could have been better, the talent is there in Russell, but writer/director Scott Stewart (“Legion”) simply cannot figure out what he wants this movie to be. There’s a story to be told about aliens having been around for centuries, abducting people when they see fit. “Dark Skies” is not that story. But maybe the alien abduction film has just run its course — it has been around since the 1950s. At this point, it’s nothing special.

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