Sunday 7 April 2013

Dark Skies

Dark Grey

Dark Skies
USA 2013
Directed by Scott Stewart
Playing at cinemas now.

Any spoilers in here are those which are already in the trailer. 

It was well over twenty years ago that I first heard of Whitley Streiber in something other than the context of his early career as a horror writer. I read a report, I think online, about him having been seen going around the area he lived in and spending a small fortune buying all kinds of alarm equipment and firearms etc to make his home as unbreachable as he could to any kind of hostile invaders. The article took a slightly patronising tone, reminded people that he’d just written the “autobiographical” novel Communion, and metaphorically patting him on the arm as if to say, “There, there. We believe you.”

The thing is, and the thing that stuck in my mind when I read that small snippet of an article, was that, well why would you go out of your way spending all that money and taking all that time to fix up and install all these different devices, if you didn’t at least believe something was out to get you?

So I read the book and saw the movie and, frankly, what I read in the book chilled me to the marrow. And so, a few years before TV shows like The X Files and, um, Dark Skies, popularised this kind of stuff big time, I started doing some research in my spare time on the subject myself. I got the librarians at the place where I worked to get out inter-library loans on various of the more respected accounts of the phenomenon of... well...alien abduction, and began to really read up on it.

About the same time, a British guy named Nick Pope was working for the Ministry Of Defence and was assigned the task of investigating various UFO related reports which had piled up over the years and ascertaining if any of them had any interest or, indeed, posed a threat to the military. My understanding is that Pope didn’t believe in such hogwash and went at it with a very cynical attitude. The attitude didn’t last too long though because he found that a small percentage of the things he investigated really didn’t have any explanation, from what I gather, other than what he was trying to debunk, and he resigned and the MOD shut the project down. He carries on investigatng, somewhat less cynically, in a private capacity today, from what I can gather.

And, again, around the same time, someone came to work at the same place as me for a while and one of his previous jobs had been air traffic control. He “believed” totally and said after the kinds of things that you routinely see and get reported in that job, you have to sign the official secrets act.

So I carried on reading and two things came out of my personal research into extraterrestrial visitors.

One of the things I noticed is that the people who firmly believe this stuff and investigate it do tend to be the most cynical people going. They distrust everything but solid evidence and, sometimes, that evidence is there to be found (and ignored or covered up by any kind of government sanctioned body).

Secondly, I believed this stuff so much, because the cases made from various methods of research were so airtight, to be honest, that I had about three years of sleepless nights (that’s okay, I was younger and could handle that... but it was fear that kept me awake). I mostly, deliberately stay away from this kind of stuff now. I believe the matching accounts of groups of people on crowded streets (mayors, police officers and passers by) who all collectively witnessed single incidents of the most amazing and unbelievable kind and all independently reported these things... as much as I believe the aliens can be categorised and identified by most people involved in these encounters, even those who have come from small tribes cut off from the rest of the planet and who are “totally” unpolluted by anything happening in Western culture. They all draw the same drawings.

So yeah, I leave that stuff alone now because, frankly, I’m getting on now and I need my sleep.

And that’s exactly why competently put together movies like this one called Dark Skies (which has no ties with the similarly themed TV show from a couple of decades ago) work so well on me.

Now I saw a trailer for this movie and it looked pretty much like a standard haunted house meets Greys scare movie, Greys being a specific and most widely seen alien type (if you believe that kind of thing, but that’s exactly why they’re mined so much in modern popular culture). Well I have to say, this movie does pretty much everything as advertised. There are no twists, just scary visitations from our little grey friends (Zeta Reticulans, for the record) interwoven with a few other phenomena to spice up the scare factor and neatly summarised by the “Van-Helsing-but-only-in-an-advisory-capacity” alien researcher played so credibly by the always watchable J.K. Simmons.

The whole film is full of standard scare tactics and clich√© ridden horror tropes but, that’s okay, because it is really all quite well put together and it certainly had my heart beating faster (but then again, as I have taken time to explain here, I’m prone to that kind of extra-terrestrial implied threat anyway). The music, by composer Joseph Bishara, is well put together and delivers all the modern atonal nightmarish quality you’d need in a score like this, sci-fi’d up with a bit of subsonic synthesizery stuff which kicks in when required. The direction and shot design are all pretty much adequate/competent and the performances are all fine too.

The writing is a bit patchwork in its sources, to be truthful, and the obvious attempt at misdirecting you away from the actual target of the extraterrestrial antagonists is both obvious and quickly guessed, so the ending is of no real surprise and it really could have done without the “beat you over the head with stuff you were more than aware of at the time” flashbacks in the little epilogue sequence... although the very last 30 seconds or so was a nice touch.

But, all said and done, the film is still quite scary (it veers from various research accounts at times to quite deliberately justify why it is trying to scare the audience at one point) and certainly, although nowhere near the best film made on this kind of subject material, it does still manage to be quite grippng and suspensful througout a fair few of the set pieces, despite the number of familiar “horror moments” which are piled on. So, yeah, if you like this kind of stuff then you certainly shouldn’t find yourself too dissapointed in this one. It’s a scary night out at the pictures.

And if you find yourself dweling on the dubious nature of the story and the presence of a malevalent extra terrestrial force on earth which "first" appeared on the scene during the age of science, ask yourself this... Why are elves, pixies, faeries and whatever other small creatures always popping up in various countries’ cultural mythologies?

And why do churches have gargoyles?

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