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(2013) (Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton) (PG-13)

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Sci-fi/Horror: A suburban family of four is stalked by extraterrestrials intent on doing them harm.
Lacy and Daniel Barrett (KERI RUSSELL and JOSH HAMILTON) are a suburban husband and wife with two sons, defiant teenager Jesse (DAKOTA GOYA) and troubled 7-year-old Sammy (KADAN ROCKETT). They have a lot of stress. Not only is Jesse hanging out with a bad older kid named Ratner (L.J. BENET) and Sammy is having nightmares about "The Sandman," but Daniel has been unemployed for months, Lacy isn't a very good real estate agent, and their mortgage is 90 days past due.

They soon learn that those woes pale in comparison to what is really going on in their house. The Barretts have been targeted by aliens, who have apparently been visiting them for years, implanting devices in them, sending them into trances, and otherwise observing them. It soon becomes clear that these otherworldly beings can be quite malevolent, causing physical harm to each of the family members.

Unable to go to the police, Lacy and Daniel make contact with an alien conspiracy buff named Edwin (J.K. SIMMONS) who tells them that the aliens will eventually abduct the first member of their family they made contact with. The couple fears that it is Sammy and prepare for a final confrontation that could decide their future.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Our reviewing policy for films that aren't shown in advance to critics is that we'll only provide a few paragraphs about the film's artistic merits.

For this job, I pay to see many of the films that "open cold" each year with no preview screenings for the reviewing press. In many cases, the studios hope to sneak these flicks into theaters and garner a big Friday and Saturday ahead of the near-universal critic pans and poor word of mouth. In most cases, I can tell within a film's first 15 or 20 minutes why the Hollywood decision-makers lost all faith in the product and opted to dump.

With "Dark Skies," though, I really don't see the wisdom. It is by no means a great movie. But it's well made, well acted, and reasonably tense and involving. In fact, there are actually a couple of really good scares. Sure, the people in it do some deeply asinine things at times just to keep the plot going. And it steals liberally from the "Paranormal Activity" flicks, as well as "Signs" and "Poltergeist." But what else is new?!

Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton star as middle class parents in milk-toast suburbia. She is an honest real estate agent struggling in a down housing market. He is an unemployed architect, whose career woes have put the family behind on their mortgage. They have two sons - teenage Jesse (Dakota Goya) and seven-year-old Sammy (Kadan Rockett). They thought foreclosure, loss of cable TV, and disobedient Jesse hanging out with the wrong element was scary. Wait until the aliens start terrorizing their house, messing with their security system, and possessing their bodies!

Most of the action takes place in the family house, and writer-director Scott Stewart does a good job giving us a layout of the home and then using its corners, doors, and hallways to his advantage. There is a bit of blood and gore throughout. But the film is more about mood and tension, clashing personalities and ratcheting up pressure on the parents and two kids from both inside and outside the house.

I laughed at myself on the drive home for being suckered by a couple of its manipulations. But it held my interest throughout, and I'm recommending it. I also like alien conspiracy loon J.K. Simmons' explanation as to why the family doesn't just move. "These aliens traveled millions of light years to get here. You think moving to the next town over will stop them?!" I rate it a solid 5.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed February 22, 2013 / Posted February 22, 2013

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