Instinctually Frightening: Dark Skies (2013)

Being completely powerless in a fight or flight situation is counter-intuitively calming. Most of us tend to get a bit overwrought when describing how bad we have it. So let me clarify here. When I write completely powerless I mean just that. For example, you’re completely powerless when you’re dying.

On February 6, 2005 I woke up having a heart attack. It was a total blockage. Had I not woke up when I did, I never would have. When I realized what was happening everything got quiet, just like in the movies. There was a moment where I wanted nothing more than to run, to claw my way out of myself. Pure terror. If I could only be somewhere else. Anywhere.

But I couldn’t. So, I was calm. 

Dark Skies is the story of the Barrett family, a typical wonder bread suburban family: Daniel (Josh Hamilton), Lacy (Keri Russell), Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and Sam (Kadan Rockett). They have normal middle class problems. Daniel lost his job in the economic downturn and is having trouble getting back into the job market. Lacy is having to carry the family finically and is having a hard time doing so. Jesse, the eldest son, is hanging out with a ne’er-do-well older boy. And little Sam is lost in the shuffle.

Then someone takes everything out of the kitchen cabinets and stacks them in this incredible geometrical mobile. At first the strange events are easily blamed away, i.e. it’s the children acting up. After a while it’s obvious that the someone is not the boys. Someone is breaking into their house despite the security systems. At first content to rearranging their stuff, later the someone becomes interested in the family members themselves.

What would you do to protect your children when there’s absolutely nothing you can do to protect them? How do you do anything when you’re completely powerless? Those sounds like a stupid questions, but that’s what makes this movie so terrifying. Those “chosen” by the someone are likened to lab rats. What can a lab rat know of the intentions, abilities, etc., of the scientists experimenting on them? This someone is so beyond anything we can understand that there are no possibilities beyond just letting whatever happen.

The problem is magnified in that the if Barrett’s seek help they only isolate themselves further. This isn’t a commentary on humanity’s callous nature. No one faults us for being wary of alien abductees. Their stories are unbelievable. Nor is the film simply saying “what if” these things really happened. The power of Dark Skies lies in the fact that it is a horror film that places the audience into a situation of complete powerlessness, in that moment of pure terror where you’re all alone even in a room full of people. It’s not built around the traditional scares where something’s jumping out at you, though it does have those moments. It’s going deeper, that instinctual fear of death.

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