One of the most interesting arguments about movies, at least to me, is the one that compares movie viewing to addiction. Most addiction theories talk about how an addict buys in to a high, but it's a high that decreases over time. The theory says that the high is greatest at first, but later in the addict's life the tolerance builds up and they can never reach that same feeling again. The theory makes sense there, and, unfortunately, occasionally makes sense with movies too.
If you're a horror fan like me, then consider that time when you were a kid and were first really scared by a movie. You probably thought it could happen to you and came up with safe guards to prevent yourself from the movie and all kinds of silly kid things. Some people don't, but I know I did. Heck, I thought there might be something under the bed till I was 18. Did I get picked on and bullied in school? Sure I did. But it was a for a good cause.
Time, however, reveals all things. The more horror we watch, the more we become accustomed to the tricks, the more we start to recognize the twists, and the more we become cynical toward what we see. That first time you saw someone jump out from behind someone in a horror movie sure made you scream, but now think of the 437th time you saw it happen. Did you laugh? I probably laughed. Doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it, but it does mean that I didn't feel the same shock.
Which brings me to Dark Skies, a new horror movie full of old horror movie tricks. It follows in the footsteps of successful films from the same producers - as noted by the poster it's clearly riding the coattails of Paranormal Activity and Insidious, not to mention last year's creeper Sinister - which means it uses a lot of the same moves that we've already seen. The lighting, the music, and even the settings are entirely familiar to anyone who has seen those films. And it's not like those flicks were the first to use bump-in-the-night tactics to get audiences' attentions, which makes the film even more familiar to horror addicts. It's hard to really be shocked by anything contained in this film, whose biggest flaw is existing in the wake of literally thousands of films that have the same style.
Now that I've gotten my old man horror rant out of the way (And, good lord, it took me long enough!), here's the kicker - Dark Skies is a pretty competent little horror film. The plot follows the same arc that we've seen in the previously mentioned films, with the major tweak being that demons or ghosts have been replaced by aliens. This is sure to draw skepticism from plenty of viewers, and some of the reveals are a little silly. Yet the film never fully goes off the cliff of realism and manages to keep its feet as it moves through this battle with an increasingly problematic adversary.
The film gets most of its strength from the two actors in the lead. Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton are the married couple who, along with their two children, are terrorized by visitors and both give grounded and interesting performances. Russell is the bigger name and the one who is given the most screen time to uncover oddities and react with unease, but the character written for Hamilton is a truly interesting twist on the usual. Films of this sort often miss with the male character (i.e. - Mee-kah in Paranormal Activity), but Hamilton's character is never completely skeptical or distant from the proceedings. It's a fantastic addition to the film when we see this man go through a human range of emotions without being one note, and it cements that Dark Skies isn't just a cash in on a formula.
Of course, the fact that Dark Skies follows a formula I've seen a plethora of times doesn't discount the film for those who don't know the formula. As I watched the film tonight, a family of four with two pre-teen daughters sat across the aisle. Did one of the daughters scream loudly about 20 times during the movie? Yes, yes she did. Did I smile every time? Yes, yes I did. It was those moments, in which a young horror viewer reacted to the same kind of things I used to react to, that made me appreciate everything Dark Skies has to offer, both on its own and as a member of the horror family. The film works on the simplest level of horror, which should grab the viewers with a low tolerance, and offers new twists like the well-written family dynamic and some surprising dream sequences for the high tolerance folks like myself. Dark Skies will never go down as a revelation in the horror genre, but I'm pretty comfortable saying it does enough right to make it worth a viewing.