DARK SKIES (Scott Stewart). 95 minutes. See listing. Rating: NN
Everyone knows Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters Of The Third Kind as a rapturous, reassuring tale of human-alien contact, but if you extracted the Melinda Dillon subplot from its midsection, you'd have a terrifying story of a mother and child targeted for unknown purposes by relentless extraterrestrial forces.
Well, that's Dark Skies, a suburban horror movie that finds the entirely unremarkable Barrett clan - job-hunting architect Daniel (Josh Hamilton), realtor Lacy (Keri Russell), teenage Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and preteen Sam (Kadan Rockett) - tormented by skinny grey aliens straight out of central casting.
It starts as the usual bump-in-the-night stuff, allowing writer-director Scott Stewart (Legion, Priest) to use the slow-burn structure that's all the rage in contemporary horror nowadays. The first hour is an E.T. variation on the Paranormal Activity formula, with long stretches of domestic banality punctured by jump scares: Bird strikes! Nosebleeds! Characters staring into the middle distance with their mouths wide open in a creepy way! What could it all mean?
And just as Dark Skies seems ready to go somewhere interesting, Stewart taps out, bringing in J.K. Simmons as an alien expert who provides an expository monologue about the malevolent ETs' presence on Earth and their unknowable ways. It's the movie's equivalent of flushing itself down a hole, explicitly telling us that we won't be getting any explanations or answers for what we've seen because we couldn't comprehend the machinations of a genuinely alien race.
It's at this point that Stewart stops ripping off Close Encounters and sets his sights on that awful Julianne Moore thriller The Forgotten, or maybe Richard Kelly's The Box, and Dark Skies slouches to its utterly undistinguished finale: aliens, flashing lights, smoke, whatever.
The worst thing about all of this is that Simmons handles his big scene beautifully, with a sad weariness that speaks volumes about the character's frustration and exhaustion, which immediately left me wondering why the hell we couldn't have been watching a movie about his character instead.