It's a bad time to watch a horror movie. There used to be a time, not too long ago, where people would actively watch movies that made them scared or anxious and enjoyed it. While those movies live on, their appeal is growing thinner by the day. A tongue-in-cheek viewing of Contagion is a lot bleaker in January 2021 than it was in February 2020. Luckily, this 2013 thriller streaming on Netflix uses this to its advantage, turning what could be a tired plot into a surprisingly comforting watch.
Dark Skies is a 2013 alien thriller that preys on parental anxieties. No parent likes having a sick child, so the thought of a possessed child is enough to prompt a full-on panic. The Barrett family is living an idyllic life in the suburbs until a sequence of strange occurrences makes them think something is terribly wrong.
First, all their dishes and cookware are arranged meticulously overnight. Then, all the sensors on the home security system are set off simultaneously. The younger of their two boys has what looks like an epileptic fit. A massive flock of birds flies into their house. All members of the family — mother Lacy (Keri Russel), father Daniel (Josh Hamilton), and their two sons, Jesse and Sammy — experience gaps in their memory.
Lacy and Daniel first seek a logical explanation for this event. Could something in the house be toxic and affecting them? Were the birds a freak migration pattern? But over time, they turn to more absurd explanations, eventually consulting with UFO specialist Edwin Pollard (J.K. Simmons), who sees the events as part of a larger pattern of alien interference by beings known only as "the Greys." Together, they band together to fight this literal alien threat.
The best part of Dark Skies is without a doubt the performances. Keri Russell and J.K. Simmons shine with barely-held-within paranoia as Lacy and Edwin, and the child actors portraying the boys do a very passable job — a tall order for such challenging roles.
While initially this film was passed over because of its use of alien and horror clichés, that's exactly what makes it such a good watch now. Yes, it's meant to stoke paranoia and anxiety, but it does so in such a way that's almost soothing. Each step feels predictable, but it's never boring. Instead, it feels more like reassurance.
Maybe horror movies are exactly what we should be watching now. If we can't eliminate the scares we face every day, at least we can redirect the energy to something as ridiculous as aliens.
Dark Skies is now streaming on Netflix in the U.S.