They say there's nothing quite like money problems to put a strain on a marriage. And up until recently, Dan and Lacy Barrett would have probably agreed. But now they know that invading aliens are just a tad more stressful than that.
It's been a little rocky between them since Dan was downsized out of a job. And the suffering housing market took a bite out of Lacy's real estate prospects. So overdue bills and a depleted savings account have added up to sharp responses and clenched-jaw dinners. They've tried to shield their two young boys, Jesse and Sammy, from it all, but you know how kids are. They've sensed the tension and heard the muffled-but-still-too-loud "discussions."
Then came the Grays.
Lacy woke up in the middle of the night, the first time, to find food and open soda cans strewn across the kitchen floor and leading out the open back door. That was frightening enough. But the next night—after locking the house up like a bank vault—she found a bizarre geometric structure stacked up on the dining room table, made out of every can and utensil in the house. And nightly events since have gotten odder and odder.
Are these happenings being perpetrated by someone trying to scare them? And if so, how does he circumvent the alarm system? For that matter, what does he want? The police think it might simply be one of the boys sleepwalking or playing pranks. But that's ruled out when strange marks start showing up on everyone's bodies and Sammy starts screaming. And Dan starts bleeding. And Jesse starts contorting. And Lacy starts breaking glass doors with her head.
Dan and Lacy have their share of struggles and sometimes angry spats, but it's evident that they love each other. Dan tells Lacy that he realizes, regardless of their struggles, that with her by his side they can make it through anything. In fact, the film takes that sentiment one step further and makes it clear that when they and the boys are fractured they're at their most depressed. And when they all rally together as a family they are at their strongest.
To illustrate this, the family gathers during one very stressful sequence around the kitchen table and Dan begins talking of happier times. With each tender tale and fond memory, the tension and fear they've each been feeling begins melting away. By film's end, we see them all physically fighting for one another against seemingly impossible odds.
After telling a small white lie, Dan feels bad enough that he fesses up to his wife. And in spite of being financially strapped, Lacy steers a young couple away from the house she's trying to sell, acknowledging that it's probably not the right fit for them. Lacy and Dan are utterly distraught over the idea that their parenting might be causing Sammy to have a breakdown and that their friends think they might be abusing him.
None. Well, unless you consider those little (big) green (gray) men (beings) to be somehow supernatural.
As Dan first installs cameras in every room for security reasons, Lacy asks him, "This isn't some crazy idea to spice up our sex life, is it?" He assures her that it isn't … but that he likes how she thinks. He and Lacy cuddle under the bed sheets, and the camera catches a close-up of their caressing kisses (bare shoulders and up).
Much more troubling is 13-year-old Jesse's habit of hanging out with an older friend, Kevin, and watching porn. On the TV we see a couple clutching and moaning; the man squeezes the woman's clothed breast. Making a semi-positive point about how such exposure affects boys' behavior, we later see Jesse try to fondle a girl's breast. (She initially pushes him away, but then kisses him.) Kevin crudely asks Jesse about the encounter later—implying that he went quite a bit further with his girl and pushing Jesse to also do more—to start going "downtown" with his "dates."
Among others, a young teen girl is at the pool in a skimpy bikini. Lacy wears several different styles of skin-baring nightwear including a long T-shirt with no pants and a formfitting tank top. Lacy and a female friend comment on another woman's "open relationship."
Each of the family members, at different times, find themselves caught up in some kind of seizure that results in everything from contorted screeching to physical damage. In the control of the aliens, Lacy begins pounding her head against a glass sliding door—cutting her forehead and eventually cracking the thick glass with the force of her thumps. Dan's nose begins gushing blood. Both Jesse and Sammy have masses of vicious-looking bruises all over their torsos.
During dream/vision sequences, we see Sammy with his eyes missing, black empty holes in their place. Jesse sees Dad sitting in a pool of Mom's blood and watches as Dan puts a gun beneath his own chin and pulls the trigger (offscreen).
Anticipating an alien attack, Dan buys a shotgun and shoots it into bright light formations. Hundreds of birds crash into the house, leaving walls and windows smeared with bloody splotches and the yard covered with carcasses.
Dan begins to think that some of their troubles are Jesse's friend's fault, and he shoves the teenager around in his front yard. Kevin's dad then tackles Dan and punches him in the face.
Crude or Profane Language
A half-dozen s-words. "P‑‑‑y" and "b‑‑ch" are used as putdowns one or twice each. We hear "a‑‑" and "d‑‑n" once each; "t-tties" references breasts. Jesus' name is abused twice. (Note that most of the bad language comes from teens.)
Drug and Alcohol Content
Kevin tosses a bong and a bag of weed on a table with the indication that he, Jesse and two tween/teen girls can now proceed to get high. We see them acting goofy.
An alien-invasion "expert" smokes cigarettes. Dan brings home a bottle of champagne after getting a job. Lacy gulps down prescription meds.
Other Negative Elements
While watching porn with Kevin, Jesse lies, telling his mom they're playing an epic game of Modern Warfare. He later steals the lockbox code to a house his mother is trying to sell and lets his friends in for a party. Young Sammy's friends make fun of him when he slips into a trance state while at the park and wets his pants. (We see the stain.) Dan makes fun of Jesse's friend's last name, turning Ratner into "rat-face."
Billed as coming "from the producers of Paranormal Activity and Insidious," Dark Skies is a pedestrian and predictable sci-fi/horror-lite flick. It takes the well-worn cinematic formula of a middle-American family set afloat in a slowly heating supernatural frog pot … and (merely) gives it a "when aliens attack" tweak.
Yes, it's Paranormal Activity with long-limbed, bulbous-headed gray aliens silhouetted in the shadows instead of demons.
That's a relief in some ways, as the horribly twisted spiritual nature of those other films is reduced to an almost laughable nod to Roswell, N.M. You can even find an analogous lesson within its shadows if you care to squint your eyes just right.
So let's squint for a couple of paragraphs.
Dark Skies takes the mundane fears of real life and funnels them through a more fantastical filter. Its not-quite-normal world is a place where today's pay-the-bills struggles and husband-and-wife strains are transmogrified into dark-of-night terrors. And the everyday threat of a teen falling prey to a misguided older friend is mirrored and eclipsed by the horror of an alien abduction.
The film says that when families meet these scary obstacles and threats, they have only one real way to face them: together. When Dan and Lacy seek out the advice of the aliens specialist, he even comes right out and makes the point plainly, telling the fearful mom and dad, "Your greatest defense against them is if your family is united."
The solid presence of that down-to-earth truth tagging along on a dark-skies premise doesn't mean, though, that viewers should be expecting a solid (or happy) ending.