Aliens are one of the most terrifying fiction and (depending on who you talk to) non-fiction creatures that may or may not exist. These little green men from outer space have abducted, experimented, and terrorized their way through decades of cinema, literature, and (allegedly) real life occurrences that will forever fascinate or haunt your imagination. So when we’re not busy being Randy Quaid-level of conspiracy theorist or becoming best friends with lost extraterrestrial dwarfs, the thought of something not of this world invading your body is frankly, fucking terrifying. One or two scares and atmosphere aside, unfortunately DARK SKIES fails at creating any semblance of terror and opts for groan inducing cliches.
But, what if I told you that there’s a little bit more to the film than at face value? That apart from being a one note horror film, there’s a not so thinly veiled subtext about teen angst and bad parenting? For the sake of getting to my point, I have to completely spoil DARK SKIES. Well, if you’ve seen the trailer you’ve already spoiled it yourself since it’s basically the entire film, so you might as well read on!
Alright, here goes. The aliens in DARK SKIES are not evil, deadly, or dangerous in any way. Try as it might to persuade you that they’re here to abduct us and shove probes up our asses, it’s simply not true. The films’ true antagonist comes in the form of Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton; the parents.
Still here? Cool, allow me to further question my sanity. DARK SKIES is an allegory for abuse and shitty parenting in America. DARK SKIES centers around The Barretts, an average American family that’s just trying to keep their head above water. Papa Barrett is having trouble finding a job after an unexpected layoff, and Mama Barrett is a realtor struggling to find a buyer willing to say yes. They have two kids, Teen Barrett and Little Barret, with the former being a typical rebellious teenager who spends his time hanging out with a foulmouthed trouble-maker named Ratface and watching soft core porno. Right about now is where I started to pick up on my theory.
The first night the extraterrestrial activity (a-ha!) begins, Mama Barrett wakes to find the contents of the refrigerator thrown all over the kitchen and the back door open. The next night Mama Barret is woken up again to see everything in the kitchen stacked impossibly, leading her to ask/accuse Little Barret who did this: “The Sandman did it, right before he came into my room.” Other odd occurrences happen, but it’s not until Mama Barrett hears Little Barret talking in his room does she catch a glimpse of a tall, shadowed being standing over her sons’ bed. In a state of fright, instead of helping she darts out of the room, then returns and finds both the alien and her son gone. The later find Little Barret outside walking away from the house, under some sort of trance. I believe this is a literal metaphor of turning your back on your loved ones, and the aliens are here to do what they cannot. Be good parents.
This is why Teen Barrett retreats to Ratface’s, even though he treats him like shit. Teen get’s absolutely no love from either parent, who now argue incessantly, start to have lucid dreams, one involving Little Barrett with his eyes torn out, and begin to inflict bodily harm to themselves only to wake up hours later with gaps of time unaccounted for. The film takes a bit of time to get to know Teen Barrett through a mini coming of age scene that sees Teen smoking weed with Ratner, and his first intimate encounter with a girl. Teen recreates a scene from the porno he saw earlier, mimicking a pickup line and then proceeding to fully grab the breast of aforementioned girl. The intended effect of this scene is supposed to be, “aww he’s so young” but it’s the exact opposite. Teen has no guidance from his completely absent father and resorts to groping a girl because he saw a porn star do it. If that isn’t a black & white look at what’s wrong with kids today, the negligence of parents, I don’t know what is.
Things seem to look up once Papa finally lands a job, and instead of sharing her news that they’ve possibly been targeted by aliens for abduction, Mama completely forgets about it and they whisk the kids off to their friends house so then can have sex. Shitty parenting counter: 3. Little Barrett is returned home by his Mother’s friend, who discovered several bruises all over his body. Now, this is explained by a doctor that they have been applied by a special brand. I on the other hand, beg to differ. We’re lead to believe the aliens are doing this, but there’s evidence that suggests otherwise. Little Barrett’s talk of a Sandman, his silence on the subject, and the loss in time that the adult’s cannot account for. The parent’s worry the Mother thinks they’re the Sandman, and the doctor threatens that Child Protective Services will investigate their family.
Funny thing is, CPS never comes to investigate. The aliens come.
Instead of seeking help from law enforcement or risking coming across as deranged, Mama and Papa go to Exposition Alien Expert for advice on how to fight off the aliens from taking their children. Children they show no care for. Children they made leave the house so they could have sex. Exposition Alien Expert asks them a series of questions, and diagnoses them with “Aliens Are Coming For Your Kids, Buy A Shotgun and Board Up Your House” syndrome. They notice a wall of missing kids posters adorning the wall of his apartment. This has happened many times before. He tells the Barrett’s “there is nothing special about your family” in regards to why they’ve been chosen and their connection to the other families. There is though, all of those children’s parents were likely terrible guardians like the Barrett’s, and they were taken.
Throughout the film, not once do the alien’s come across as how Mama, Papa, and Exposition Alien Expert treat them. The three times they appear on screen, they’re met with hostility from Mama & Papa. Much like abusive parents would react to CPS coming to rescue their children from their harmful grasp. In the climax, Teen Barrett has an all too real hallucination that shows a completely off the hinges Papa has shot and killed Mama before turning the gun on himself. We see Little Barrett looking up at the ceiling and laughing to himself, and Ratface & the girl who kissed Teen watching porn, inviting Teen to join them. He snaps out of it to be greeted by the aliens, while Mama, Papa, and Little watch on as they take him away. No struggle ensues, they simply give up.
Or it’s possible I’ve given this film and the team behind it far too much credit and sophistication. Is DARK SKIES capable of subliminally containing metaphorical elements, or have I gone off the deep end and this is a barely serviceable horror film that rips-off SIGNS and POLTERGEIST? You be the judge, Fright-fans.