"Dark Skies" and the Reason Alien and Paranormal Movies So Seldom Work

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Dark Skies and the Reason Alien and Paranormal Movies So Seldom Work

By Dustin Rowles | Film Reviews | February 22, 2013 | Comments ()


Here's what I know, and here's what I've learned from watching countless movies about the paranormal, and about the supernatural, and about the afterlife, and from watching "Lost": Explaining the mysteries of existence, of alien life forms, or of God and religion cannot be done in a satisfying way. There are scores of phenomenal films that feature aliens, ghosts, and other paranormal activity, and you can create great stories around them, extract a lot of scares, and introduce compelling conceptual thinking, but the second you attempt to provide an answer to a question that cannot be answered, you will lose your audience and your movie will fall in on itself.

"Lost" is the perfect example of this: As long as the show was creating questions, it was brilliant, engrossing, and mysterious. The second it began trying to answer them, however, it lost us. There was not a way to end "Lost" that would've brought anyone any real satisfaction, not unless Damon Lindelof knew something about existence that the rest of us did not. Philosophy is about asking questions and considering the hundreds of possibilities, but the minute you try to isolate a single answer is the minute you go from philosopher to crackpot. The only way "Lost" might have succeeded at all is if it had never tried to answer the big questions, ended on an ambiguous note, and left us scratching our head in perpetuity. After all, the best part about "Lost" was trying to figure out what was going on, and as long as our answers remained couched in theory, we were happy to continue speculating.

Dark Skies is an alien movie starring Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton as parents of two children who live in a house that begins to experience strange phenomena. For no particular reason, weird things begin to happen -- food is strewn all over the kitchen. The burglar alarm continues to go off without any evidence of a break-in. Hundreds of birds kamikaze into their house. Then creepy things begin to happen: The family members suffer blackouts, nosebleeds, and lose chunks of time. Their bodies become covered in strange markings.

It's slow, and it's dull, and there's nothing we haven't seen a thousand times before, but the one thing that strings us along is the not knowing: What is it? Why is this happening?

We soon find out it is aliens, and in the best scene of the film -- in fact, maybe the only good scene -- J.K. Simmons, who plays an expert on aliens, attempts to explain the unnatural events. There is no reason, he says. "You are not special." It's completely f*cking random. The best you can do is simply to deal with it.

It's a non-answer, but it's better than any actual answer he could've given. Unfortunately, the problem with a movie like this is that audiences want an answer that screenwriters are not equipped to provide. Nobody is. Yet, when audiences are not handed the answer to one of life's greatest mysteries, they leave pissed off, but not as pissed off as if they'd been given an answer that attempts to explain the unexplainable.

Even with a non-answer, however, Dark Skies soon thereafter caves in on itself, as the family attempts to fight something that can't be fought. At the very least, however, writer/director Scott Stevens understands that; he knows there are no answers; these things cannot be defeated with shotguns, spells, exorcisms, or the "power of love." It doesn't make Dark Skies an interesting, compelling, or even entertaining movie, but at least Stevens doesn't insult our intelligence by attempting to explain the unexplainable. That I appreciated. The rest of the movie? Not so much.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Green_Eggs_and_Hamster

    >>>these things cannot be defeated with shotguns, spells, exorcisms, or the “power of love.<<<

    Did they try throwing water on it? I hear throwing Water on aliens often causes them to disintegrate because of.....reasons.

  • ,

    Ah, Keri Russell, you so pretty.

    But not $7.75 pretty in a piece of shit.

    Aliens? Seriously? Poltergeists I would have believed ...

  • Asashii Fustazi

    i love your written last line of your comment that is way funny, aliens thats B%llshit but Poltergeists now thats all too believable, thats the way i read it and its way funny, they both are silly to me!!!

  • shake

    Dr. Who, The Silence scared me more than this.

  • foolsage

    Midi. Fucking. Chlorians.

    That's the worst, the most egregious example I can think of. Lucas took The Force - this magnificent mythos, this system of primitive magic anchored in vague Zen aphorisms - and he tried to explain it.

    Mitochondria + chloroplasts = midichlorians. Organelles that provide power to animal and plant cells respectively, Yes, very clever, George, we get it. However, what we also get is that you just reduced spiritual advancement to mere biology.

    You twat.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    I'm just going to take this chance to advance my argument for why George Lucas still totally sucks, but midichlorians are not an inherently bad thing. It's all about the bloat and casual corruption of the Jedi Order. I mean, think about it. By the time of the prequels, they live on top of the world. Kinda literally. The Galactic Senate apparently listens to their every word, but at the same time... do they? Because what if they say things they don't like? But notice, that never happens. They run along, playing happy little diplomats for the Senate, chilling in their comfortable digs, creating hardline rules and regulations about ages and possibly correlated blood markers that say a person will make a good Jedi. It's lazy, it's self-serving, it's an organization that has betrayed itself and shouldn't be surprised when it is destroyed from the inside.

    Midichlorians are representative of the rot that was going on in a Jedi Order that had grown complacent, that had stopped listening to the Force when they could just listen to what ages seemed to work best for indoctrination, and what kind of blood counts most strongly indicated potential. Yoda still kinda paid attention, and he got to live. But everyone else? They liked their comfy chairs and their sweetass tower and they bit it hard.

    In a better prequel trilogy, people would fucking love midichlorians for what they did to the story, but Lucas can't be bothered with subtlety or the suggestion that the Jedi are not innately good by virtue of being called Jedi.

    So yeah. Twat. But I have different reasons.

  • foolsage

    I just don't see midichlorians as having anything at all to do with the corruption of the Jedi Order. There are myriad ways to tell that story, none of which require biological explanations for mystical power. Nor for that matter did the midichlorian concept in any way enrich the political story.

    Leave out the midichlorians for a second. Is the Jedi Order any less rigid and set in its ways? Is the Chosen One no longer needed to bring balance to the Force?

    Without midichlorians, in short, what part of the story changes meaningfully?

    I don't see any changes at all. Anakin's whole life would proceed precisely the same without midichlorians; substitute instead some mystical test Qui-Gonn performs to determine whether Anakin is in touch with the Living Force strongly enough to become a Jedi. That is after all the whole function of midichlorians in the plot; they're a tool used to demonstrate that Anakin was incredibly powerful in the Force, and nothing more. Unfortunately, while they did accomplish this one goal, they also did a lot of secondary harm to the mythos.

  • IHateDisqus

    Mere biology? YOU, sir.madam, are the twat.

  • foolsage

    Hmm. I think you misunderstand. I'm not belittling biology, but complaining that mysticism is best left to its own devices. Not everything goes together like chocolate and peanut butter; generally speaking science and religion are best left separate. They are used to explain different phenomena. They serve different purposes.

    Science is fact-based. In science, the data come first, and the theories are shaped by the data. If your data don't support your hypothesis, you reject the hypothesis.

    Religion is faith-based. In religion, the theory comes first, and the data either comply with the theory, or the data are rejected. In religion, you NEVER reject the initial hypothesis.

    If I want to know what happens when I mix an atom of sodium with an atom of chlorine, science has answers! If I want to know how to live a good life, science really doesn't help at all. Religion is precisely the opposite.

    I'm certainly not in any sense attacking science, merely suggesting that not every problem is a nail and that there are tools other than hammers.

  • BlackRabbit

    "In religion, you NEVER reject the initial hypothesis." Well, there's your first problem, right there.

  • BWeaves

    " . . . who live in a house that begins to experience strange phenomena."

    So the Homeowner's Association rules weren't scary enough? You should see the Nazi letters I get when my driveway needs power washing. Now that's scary, and can be explained.

  • HMDK

    That would actually be a great concept for a horror movie. Nazi HOAs terrorizing a just-moved-in family. Sort of a Rosemarys Baby/ The Faculty deal.

  • ,

    Sort of like "The Cable Guy."


    "Hi. I'm here to power wash your driveway ..."

    "But my driveway doesn't ..."

    "... or else. That'll be $500. In cash. Now."

  • BiblioGlow

    The X-Files did this in one of their funniest episodes. Mulder and Scully had to move to the suburbs and become Mr. and Mrs. Petrie. Like the dish, get it? Cuz science? Then Mulder proceeds to bait the HOA monster with a plastic lawn flamingo. Unsurprisingly it nearly gets him killed.

  • Bert_McGurt

    I'd have figured Mr. and Mrs. Petrie to be a reference to The Dick Van Dyke Show.

  • superasente

    I know the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.

    It's "42."


  • BWeaves

    Well, technically, it's 101010 in binary or on, off, on, off, on, off, which explains a lot.

  • Slash

    It can be done, it just usually isn't.

    No matter how "Lost" ended, a bunch of dipshits would have whine about "losing" 6 years of their lives, but it sure as hell could have been done better.

  • Amy

    I'll just say that Signs is one of my favorite movies of all time.

  • HMDK

    Why would anyone admit this? Fuck, why would anyone THINK this?
    It has one scare, and it's a cheap jump-scare. The story itself is bullshit vomited up and eaten again. It was the weakest of twists.

  • Amy

    I don't care about the twist, or the jump-scare. I don't consider it a scary movie or a thriller.

  • Salieri2

    Joaquin Phoenix saves it for me: wearing the tinfoil hat solemnly, watching the TV in the closet, yelling at the kids onscreen to "Get out of the way! Vamonos, children!!"

    Pretty pissed about the dogs, though.

  • $27019454

    That scene alone. THAT SCENE for so many reasons.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    Except he left the dog outside. That still pisses me off.

  • Homestar

    "Philosophy is about asking questions and considering the hundreds of possibilities, but the minute you try to isolate a single answer is the minute you go from philosopher to crackpot. "

    Not so sure about this. There's a difference between looking philosophically for answers and writing a bad script.

  • HMDK

    Yes, philosophy is about asking questions and retreating in horror from any answers... wait what?

  • Jim Slemaker

    Yes, SIGNS had me right up to the ludicrous "ending". And, yet, THE SIXTH SENSE in fact, delivered a wonderful final act in every way. So it can be done. But it is rare. It's probably why the first PARANORMAL ACTIVITY was so effective. It never tried to answer the unexplainable.

  • BendinIntheWind

    Sure it did - she calls a psychic pretty early on who tells her she's being haunted by a demon that feeds off of negative energy.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Yes, but that doesn't explain why.

  • phoenix

    unfortunately it tried to in the second movie

  • Bert_McGurt

    "Yet, when audiences are not handed the answer to one of life’s greatest mysteries, they leave pissed off, but not as pissed off as if they’d been given an answer that attempts to explain the unexplainable."

    Also known as the "You have got to be sh*tting me - f*ckin' WATER and a baseball bat?" response.

  • Asashii

    nice ref to Signs!

  • bob


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