Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Blu-ray Review: DARK SKIES (2013)

DARK SKIES (2013) 

2-Disc DVD + Blu-ray + Ultraviolet 

Label: Starz/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Release Date: May 28th 2013 
Region Code: 1/A NTSC
Rating: PG-13
Duration: 97 Minutes 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.40:1) 
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio with Optional English Subtitles
Cast: Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo, Kadan Rockett, J.K. Simmons 
Director: Scott Stewart

The Barret family is your typical suburban family, a caring father Daniel (Josh Hamilton), attentive Mom Lacy (Kerri Russell), teenage son Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and his adolescent sibling Sammy (Kadan Rockett). Daniel is unemployed and his wife is a struggling real estate agent, things at home are tense and worsening as overdue  mortgage notices pour in. Teenager Jesse's hormones are emerging as he dabbles with weed, porn and sexuality, he's a pretty typical teen struggling with issues of young love and self identity. The youngest son Sammy begins having strange late night encounters with his imaginary friend the Sandman who tells him to do things, he walks in his sleep, too. 

Things start to get a bit strange when mom wakes up from her slumber one night and ventures downstairs after hearing noises, she finds the fridge wide open with it's contents strewn across the floor, a trail of food leads out the backdoor. Daniel chalks it up to a stray animal entering the house through an open door but Lacy is not so convinced, the experience leaves her a bit frazzled and paranoid with worry for her family's safety  The following night she again wakes up with the feeling that something is off,  this time discovering canned food items stacked in a weird geometric pattern which projects a peculiar light pattern onto the ceiling. The suburban setting, weird encounters and stacked items, hmm, this sort of sounds familiar, definitely starting to detect the Spielbergian influence of Poltergeist and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and I'm rather enjoying it.

The strange events continue to grow in frequency and severity, the authorities are called in but attribute the occurrences to pranks that are being perpetrated by the family's children, perhaps spurred on by the growing uneasiness in the household. Thing worsen as the home security system repeatedly malfunction, Sammy sleepwalking continues and various family members experience episodes of missing time they cannot account for and fits of catatonia, nosebleeds, and epileptic seizures. One night Lacey walks into Sammy's room after hearing him speaking to someone, opening the door she is unnerved by a weird shadowy figure, Sammy's Sandman, hovering over his bed she understandably freaks out, a parent can only take so much strain, it's an effective little startle when both the figure and Sammy disappear from the room.   

At their wit's end the father sets-up video surveillance throughout the home in an attempt to sleuth just what is happening to his family before they all completely unravel. At this point I feared the worst sort of turn, anticipating a detour straight into found footage purgatory but thankfully it doesn't quite go there, just dipping it's toe in t test the waters.  

The film excels at creating tension steadily from the first few scene, it's creepy stuff and the filmmaker does a decent job blurring the lines between fiction and reality, there's a lot of psychological weirdness going punctuated by surreal nightmare visions. The performances are quite strong, particularly mom and dad who do a great job of falling apart onscreen, unable to cope with the fantastical and unexplainable events happening to their family they unravel. There's a nice cameo from J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man) as a alien visitation specialist, it's underplayed and effective, you can feel his character's weariness and resignation, a picture of things to come for the family. 

There are moments when the film starts to drag, the character actions are questionable and the amped-up and weird ending doesn't quite live up to the promise of the film's set-up, but it's not awful either, there's nothing egregious here. Dark Skies is an effective suburban alien abduction nightmare, nicely executed with some decent atmosphere and surreal moments of unreality, a recommend for fans of Super 8, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Poltergeist and Insidious.

Blu-ray: Somehow I missed this one in theaters, the shitty ad campaign which made the film out to be Paranormal Activity with aliens didn't help, so it was a treat to catch up to it on Blu-ray from Anchor Bay. The 1080p widescreen (2.40:1) image looks quite nice on Blu-ray, it's a new film and the image is finely detailed and crisp in high definition. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio supports the film well with some effective use of the surrounds and the nerve-tingling score is creepy, very nice sound design, the film gets a nice AV presentation from Anchor Bay.

Special features on the set include an audio commentary with Writer/Director Scott Stewart, Producer Jason Blum, Executive Producer Brian Kavanaugh-Jones and Editor Peter Gvozdas plus a selection of Alternate and Deleted Scenes (14:22), none of which are particular notable aside from an inferior alternate ending we can be thankful they didn't go with. The 2-disc set includes a Blu-ray and standard def DVD with the same features plus an Ultraviolet digital copy to stream or download on your PC or mobile device. 

Special Features: 
- Alternate and Deleted Scenes (14:22) 
- Commentary With Writer/Director Scott Stewart, Producer Jason Blum, Executive Producer Brian Kavanaugh-Jones and Editor Peter Gvozdas

Verdict: I think your level of enjoyment here will be largely based on your expectations, just know going in that there's not a lot of actual scares here, it's genuinely creepy and atmospheric but there's no gore; for a PG-13 thriller Dark Skies is an effective sci-fi chiller, a bit shy of essential viewing but definitely worth a watch. 3.5 Outta 5