Premise: Take everything you knew about modern ghost horror movies, and throw it out the window! Because this time (breathes in quickly) a house starts to get haunted (breathes in quickly) and a family doesn't know what's going on (breathes in quickly) and the kids are acting weird (breathes in quickly) and they call in an outside expert (breathes in quickly) and they set up video cameras (breathes in quickly) and the tension escalates throughout the movie (breathes in quickly) and... (breathes in quickly) and... (breathes in quickly) and... (breathes in quickly) and... it's original because this time it's ALIENS, you guys! (exhales, smiles excitedly, pees pants)
-I actually enjoyed the tone of the movie. It could have gotten a much worse treatment, but it seems like the director (Scott Stewart) actually wanted to make a real film. He contrasted the terrifying night scenes with equally disturbing daytime scenes very nicely. An often underappreciated notion in horror films; he also created non-horror tension with the characters through everyday problems, like being unemployed. Nothing escalates tension about marital money issues quite like an alien invasion.
-The acting was pretty great from the leads (except for one, which I will discuss in the Cons section). The dad was especially good. He just gave a very natural, believable performance. Keri Russell pulls her weight as well. J.K. Simmons plays a good depressed guy.
-They took a really played out horror mechanic, like nighttime surveillance cameras, and they didn't abuse it. FOR ONCE.
-It's NOT a found footage film. I'm sure some film executive probably wanted it to be, and I'm very happy it's not.
-I'm enjoying this recent trend of horror movies not taking the easiest way out anymore at the end.
-Kept me entertained throughout, and it wasn't that long.
-The youngest kid in the family was played by a TERRIBLE child actor. One of the worst I've seen. He had awful delivery and showed no emotion in his face. There was a scene when he was in a park and he was just supposed to be screaming for a solid ten seconds, and he could barely make a scream face without glancing behind the camera and almost breaking into a smile. I bet that was the best take out of like 25, and it was still bad. He couldn't pronounce words correctly either and I hated it every time he talked. Just listen to how he butchers his dialogue (especially the word "room") 32 seconds into the trailer. What a dingus.
-The teenage characters had very punchable faces/haircuts. But I guess that's how most teenagers look nowadays.
-Took a little too long for the dad character to come to his senses and believe what the problem was. Even when all the evidence was right in his face, he was still slightly unconvinced. At some point, I'd probably think aliens were messing with me if that much weird stuff was happening to my family, and it wouldn't have taken that long.
-Considering that they're aliens that can teleport through doors and walls, it doesn't make much sense for the parents to separate themselves from their kids during the climactic action scene. WHICH THEY DO LIKE FIVE TIMES.
-Without spoiling it (because essentially there's nothing to spoil), the explanation as to why the aliens are doing what their doing is explained like so: "I don't know why they choose who they choose, or why they do anything they do." So basically, the aliens are just giant jerks. Still, that means there's no purpose to this movie. It's just terrible things happening to a family for 90 minutes with no real explanation. Nice atmospheric chaos, but kind of a stupid plot.
-The alien design was rather uninspired. They went for the classic grey 1950's alien look. However, they never showed the aliens in focus, as even when they were close to the camera they are always blurry. This gave them a more menacing feel than they deserved. But c'mon, they had the design of something I've seen on a ten-cent guitar pick. Get a little more creative, guys.
Final Thoughts: It's basically everything you'd expect from a horror movie of this kind, except with aliens instead of ghosts. That being said, I think Dark Skies is slightly better than most of its spooky competition. If you're into this kind of thing, it's maybe worth checking out, but it's nothing to PHONE HOME about (sorry, had to do it).
6.5 out of 10
You raise an interesting point about motivated or unmotivated violence in horror.
There's a sub-genre' in horror where the audience is quite comfortable with violence that happens without any reason. Those films tend to fall into the "torture porn" category, but not exclusively. Plots about serial killers or chaotic psychopaths also play into this. Forces of nature, demonic possessions - are presented fatalistically; there is no reason for an earthquake or tornado or psycho-killer-tower sniper. it just IS. And the fear you get from that is that it is completely random, so that you might be the next victim. The mind likes patterns, looks for them. Randomness without pattern makes us uneasy. Violence without pattern makes us scared.
The other side of horror is horror that comes with an understandable motivation. You disturb that which should not be disturbed, you alter the balance somehow, and a mechanism engages to redress that. You kill a guy's dad or wife or kid or family and he comes after you for pure revenge. You break protocol while experimenting in defiance of wiser authority. You steal something and the owner wants it back. This is horror as morality play, where victims deserve what they get. But they also have control over getting into and out of the situation; there are RULES, Donny.
I'm not a big horror fan in the first place, but if I'm going to watch one, I would rather it be from the second branch of that tree, the ones that have some logic in the plot.
[Mark Suszko] "Randomness without pattern makes us uneasy... I would rather it be from the second branch of that tree, the ones that have some logic in the plot."
That gets to the nature of horror movies as horror, rather than horror movies as movies.
Think of it like a roller-coaster ride. Yeah, there are outstanding theme rides, and I'm a huge fan, but sometimes all you want is the bottom to drop out. You want to go faster, be surprised by turns, even be left in the dark. The goal isn't narrative satisfaction. It's adrenaline.
That's why I think it's silly to say that younger audiences seek out horror porn because they've become desensitized to violence. If they were desensitized, they'd wouldn't spend on money on these. They ARE sensitized, but what they want from movies like these is adrenaline....which they only get if they find these movies horrifying.
Otherwise, it's Buffy starring in a remake of The Ring, horrifying in its own way I suppose.
That said, I think the plotlessness of modern horror is overstated. The name "torture porn" was first used in print by David Edelstein at New York Magazine (the magazine with consistently the best writing about film for decades imo, going back to the days of David Denby). He applied to Hostel, whose plot is actually ingenious, if creepy as s--t. Even the sequel made Entertainment Weekly's list of 20 Best Horror Films Of The Past 20 Years.
It was written and directed by Eli Roth, a pretty Renaissance-ish dude who also played Donny "The Bear Jew" Donowitz in Inglourious Basterds!
Here's the thing in a nutshell: he was inspired to make movies by watching Alien -- at age 8! Rather than, say, Dial M For Murder as a teen. Not that this is a requirement for "real" filmmaking, but Roth also went to NYU film school, worked with David Lynch, and cowrote Cabin Fever with his NYU roommate based on his own experience visiting a friend's pony farm in Iceland (?!?). It was one of the films that put Lionsgate on the map.
Tarantino called him "the Sinatra of the Splat Pack" (gotta love it), but there are a number of other legit talents in there, including Robert Rodriguez (Machete had a simpler plot than Hostel, trust me - and I stand second to nobody in my love for Danny Trejo), Rob Zombie (yes, a legit talent), James Wan (Saw, which included Lost buddies Michael Emerson and Ken Leung), Greg Maclean (Wolf Creek: graduate degree in directing from the Australian National Institute of Dramatic Art, worked with Baz Luhrman at Opera Australia)...and on and on. Actual MOVIES...even if they're not movies that are your cup of tea.
If you think about it, Tarantino and Luhrman as "elder statesmen" have worked somewhat parallel paths in their own ways -- extreme tastes, little use for the distinction between high art and low art, indeed embracing bad taste, but executing (ha ha) with high panache.
So yeah, plenty of hacks (ha ha) to go around in the genre, but ultimately, it's just a genre, and these are just movies, made with varying degrees of chops (ha ha).
Not that I'm going to watch any of these. You gotta be f'in kiddin' me. LOL I'm old. I don't have that much adrenaline left. LOL
In general, though, the "Deplorable! Despicable!" lamentations sound an awful lot like the complaints about comic books and rock'n'roll. Whatevs, gramps. Put your teeth in. Granny's ringing the dinner bell.
Tim, I hate roller coasters myself... but I would argue (in the friendliest way of course) that coasters are designed to mostly foreshadow every dramatic drop and turn because the anticipation is part of what jacks up your excitement. In that sense, I think roller coasters could be said to have a "plot". We already agree that they can have a theme. But the "story" a coaster tells you is:
"i sure sound rickety - how old AM I, and is any of this wood rotten? I creak so bad maybe half my bolts are missing - maybe THIS is the run where something important breaks, and you'll go flying off into space at the hairpin turn! Will you, or won't you? Here is the big climb; man, it would be bad to get stuck up this high and have to walk down... but now, so sloooowwwly, here comes the top and a good long view of the drop... and next, some turns that this thing may or may not keep holding onto the rails for...and some places where it certainly looks like you'd better duck or get decapitated.... annnnnd, here we are, back to start. You survived this time... but who knows about the next?"
[Mark Suszko] ""i sure sound rickety - how old AM I, and is any of this wood rotten? I creak so bad maybe half my bolts are missing - maybe THIS is the run where something important breaks, and you'll go flying off into space at the hairpin turn! Will you, or won't you? Here is the big climb; man, it would be bad to get stuck up this high and have to walk down... but now, so sloooowwwly, here comes the top and a good long view of the drop... and next, some turns that this thing may or may not keep holding onto the rails for...and some places where it certainly looks like you'd better duck or get decapitated.... annnnnd, here we are, back to start. You survived this time... but who knows about the next?""
SOMEBODY has ridden the American Eagle at Six Flags Great America...
I like the idea of the Eagle representing horror movies. In fact, of all the roller coasters I've been on, the American Eagle is the scariest one, BECAUSE there's always the threat that it will break down or go off the rails.
If we're going to continue relating horror movies to rollercoasters... I think the best kind would be Space Mountain; flying around in the darkness getting thrown curveballs without being able to see them. The common horror movie is probably like a standard loop-de-loop metal coaster (like Shockwave or The Demon); you're strapped in, you can see everything coming in front of you, but the loops and corkscrews are still kind of fun when you get to them. The worst kind is something like The Whizzer; barely any inclines, you have to sit in uncomfortable seats for too long, and you regret waiting in line for it.
Actually, the Iron Wolf would be the worst roller coaster to imitate (feels sudden pain in thigh and groin area).
Apropos of the conversation: notice the foreshadowingall thruout here.
I used to have a VHS copy of this film from SIGGRAPH, and when my kids were all tiny tots, we sat inches from the screen with them in my lap, and *I* was the motion platform. Good times.....
...and less barfing.