‘Dark Skies’ – thriller shows originality then disappoints; final Oscar thoughts

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

Any movie that begins with a quote from Arthur C. Clarke means to be taken seriously.

And for much of “Dark Skies,” that respect is earned. So much so that I’m a bit surprised the studio did so little to market it. Not even one of those garish nightmares called “word of mouth” screenings.

Like the best haunted house movies — which this is not; remember Clarke is a sci-fi guy — “Dark Skies” works through suggestion, misdirection and just enough shocks to keep you on your toes.

A doorknob turns menacingly. Birds throw themselves at windows as if they were auditioning for Alfred Hitchcock. Someone — or something — robs the refrigerator and leaves a messy trail of half-eaten food (If it were an animal, why did it take the lettuce and leave the bacon, the wife wonders).

And here’s where “Dark Skies” stakes its claim for originality. Like the family in “Poltergeist,” the Barretts (Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton) live in a comfortable suburb with their two sons.

However, things aren’t as comfortable as they once were. The Recession has claimed Hamilton’s job and the nose-diving real estate market doesn’t make her job as a realtor especially lucrative. At night, in bed, they talk about cutting back.  Cable, groceries, the usual.

Then the unusual strikes — in the form of a long-limbed shadow that visits their younger son at night. The boy calls the figure “The Sandman.”

Worse, the boy has welts all over his torso — welts discovered by a neighbor who, along with everyone else living nearby, is suddenly quite chilly toward the Barretts.

Conveniently —perhaps a little too conveniently — there’s someone (J.K. Simmons) who can explain it all. And while you couldn’t ask for a better actor to explain something pretty nutty in a pretty persuasive manner, a lot of the air goes out of the film.

And “Dark Skies” still has a way to go. The ending has a neat little twist, but it’s too abrupt. So don’t hang around during the credits for a final jolt or explanation or anything. The movie’s done — and you should be, too.

Final Swipe at the Oscars:

When did the host of the show become more important than who won and who lost?

I’ve finally accepted that the Red Carpet is the most important part of the evening; it goes on for hours at E! and ABC, the studio broadcasting the Oscars, gave the annual Star Strut a full hour and a half.

That’s a lot of strut.

And Seth McFarlane? It doesn’t much matter since he’s come out a winner in the ratings (up a certain million since 2004…2004????). And he’s said he won’t host again. Well, I sorta understand that. How could one possibly top jokes about boobs and Jews?

And just how much of that “reckless behavior” went unvetted by the Academy Awards board? Not much , I’m thinking. Charlize Theron walked the Carpet in a structured white dress, was in black when the camera cut to her disapproving reaction to McFarlane’s boob act and then she appeared almost immediately on-stage in flowing white chiffon to perform a romantic waltz with the certifiable stumble-bum, Channing Tatum.

Perhaps this was McFarlane’s version of Rodney King: a plaintive, can’t we all just get along?

But I have to say McFarlane started out quite well, channeling the timing and the semi-truth-to-false power takes Hope did so well. If it were 1956, this might’ve been one of the best hosting gigs ever.

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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