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I'm trying hard to like "Dark Skies" (2013)

Back when I was in high school, just a few months before I was about to graduate, I went to see The Mothman Prophecies with a group of classmates who were all going to the same college as me.  I viewed it as a "let's see how this dynamic is working now before we get there" thing.  That evening ended on a flat note because I was the only one who thought the movie was garbage.

Now, at the time, I was lot more cynical, a lot more irascible, and a hell of a lot whinier.  None of that helped matters as I tried to get a grip on my overwhelming negativity.  "How can they not see how shitty this movie is?" I groused.  "What's wrong with these people?  Is this what college is going to be like?"

Fast forward a few years and many, many nights of self-reflection later and I found myself much humbler and slightly less whiny.  The New Me was aware that my cantankerous gripes and holier-than-thou musings on movies were arrogant and not terribly fun to listen to.  The New Me wanted to be calmer and give other people's opinions their fair share of respect. The New Me tried and continues to try to enjoy movies for what they are and see them the way that fans might.

The New Me is not always successful.

Dark Skies is a movie very much like The Mothman Prophecies, not only in terms of tone and pacing, but in how I reacted to it, how I've heard others react, and how confused that has left me.  It's a movie that my gut tells me should be given a much lower rating, but which I'll put on paper as something more middle of the road.  That's why I'm rating this a 2.5 / 5.

But don't let that deceive you.  My rating is a meager attempt at diplomacy.  Due warning to those who liked this movie - I'm about to get whiny.  Maybe just close this tab and save yourself the frustration.

The main frustration I have with the movie - and the same thing that got under my skin about Mothman - is that there's too much spoooooooooky shit and not nearly enough cohesion.  Don't get me wrong; I like spooky shit in my movies.  I just like a well-told story even better.

This is a movie that throws everything it can at you for ages without explicitly revealing the threat. (It's aliens, by the way, and I wish to God the filmmakers would've stopped acting so goddamned coy about it when the title, miscellaneous insert shots, and plot description have all already told you that it's fucking aliens).  Spooky shadows at night?  Sure.  Weird glitches in a security system?  Why not.  Children in peril?  Yeah, go for it.  Just don't expect the protagonists to figure this shit out until your patience has frayed right through - they're stuck in their first act for about an hour.

Then, when they finally start trying to resolve their alien situation, they breeze right on through the second act for about five minutes and get straight to the climax, where they hunker down in their house with a half-cocked plan and endure even more spooky shit.  But you don't need that by this point - we're done with spooky shit.  We know there's aliens, we know there's a problem, we know what the premise is.

What we don't know are the specific mechanics of how the aliens work.  That was the stuff we were supposed to learn in the second act - the part where the mom and dad go talk to a paranoid conspiracy theorist is the part where he's supposed to say, "My research shows that the aliens want to abduct your kid, and they will be able to do it after these three things happen, and you might be able to stop it if you do these two things."

We need that explanation so that we can scoot to the edge of our seat in twenty minutes when we see that two of the three abduction criteria have been met, and only one out of the two protective measures have been taken, and we're in a race to see who's going to complete their victory checklist first.  If you don't know what the specifics are, then you can't tell whether characters are making progress or not.  It's really, really hard to buy into rising tension when a movie is this obsessed with keeping everything a mystery.

(Spoilers in the next two paragraphs.) Then one of the kids gets abducted, and the movie cuts to an epilogue that is among one of the dumbest I've ever seen.  We see the family three months later, and although there are some implied resolutions to their various social and financial conflicts, we don't have a clear grasp on where the family stands.  But the movie doesn't care - it gives us even more spooky shit along with a flashback scene where we're meant to connect the dots and realize, "Oh, my God, the aliens were visiting the kid his whole life!!!!"

But there's no context here to make that shit interesting.  The aliens were monitoring the kid since birth - so what?  How does that change anything we've just seen?  It's like if you made an intense drama about a family that loses their son in a car accident, and then at the end of the movie the mother looks through a photo album and gasps, "Oh, my God... he's been riding in cars since he was born!"

The fact that the film gives so much gravitas to this "reveal" and treats it like some kind of mind-blowing revelation actually makes me angry.  Up to this point, I just thought the movie was frustrating and kinda boring, but I was willing to say, "Whatever, it's not my thing" and move on.  When you pull this kinda shit, though, it's like you think I'm an idiot and I'll just get distracted by the shiny object you're dangling in front of me.  Don't condescend to me, Dark Skies.  Either give me a proper ending or shut up.

So, yeah, my gut reaction is pretty awful.  And yet, I can't beat up the movie too badly.  I think the story, pacing, and tension are all crap, but everything else is totally fine.  The cast does a good job, the editing's fine, it's shot well, etc.  It should just be a run-of-the-mill PG-13 thriller that I see and go, "Eh."

But then I think back on The Mothman Prophecies....

Sigh.  Maybe somebody The Old Me will finally give it a rest.