Set in the suburbs (the go-to site for alien invasions), the Barrett family find themselves plagued by not only mounting debt, but bizarre occurrences. Starting with messes in the kitchen, the “pranks” escalate to finding their son wandering into the street at night, not knowing how he got there. When Lucy (Keri Russell) loses her job as a real estate agent after being seemingly possessed during a showing, she begins to look for extra-terrestrial explanations, leading her to conspiracy expert Edwin Pollard (J.K. Simmons). As Pollard explains, aliens are a reality “like death and taxes.” Lucy’s husband, Daniel (Josh Hamilton), reluctantly comes around to her “crazy” reasoning, accepting one of their sons is at risk of abduction.
Ostensibly the nuclear family par excellence, the Barretts’ outward appearance of perfection is quickly ruptured as we see overdue mortgages bills and discussions of cutting back on cable. This is the new normal—seething anger and frustration over financial woes explode in the domestic realm as Lucy and Daniel fight while their sons try to sleep. As such, the aliens’ initial encounters are explained away as their children rebelling. The creatures from outer space may as well be manifestations of the frustrated energy which simmers in the Barrett house. Lucy and Daniel eventually become consumed with fighting not the specific invading entities, but rather the feeling of rapidly loosing control—much like the sensation of sinking into debt. (By no accident, the final showdown occurs on July 4th, suggesting the national scope of the Barretts’ problems.) An analogy which makes sympathizing with the Barretts’ otherworldly concerns relatable, the issue lies in that it suggests the coming of financial crisis was beyond our control, not a product of our actions. Pollard explains being selected by the aliens is merely bad luck, so the Barretts are never culpable for what befalls them. The reasoning echoes of the very delusional denial that led to credit crash in recent years.
Ultimately, this isn’t enough to make the film more than passably interesting. The scares are fleeting and far between, as Dark Skies moves at glacial pace, bouncing between family members’ perspectives, but never establishing a sense of investment in any one character. Botching the visual effects in a few key moments, the final conclusion of a David Lynch-lite dream sequence feels trite, draining any residual fear that had been built up. As it where, the skies may be dark, but there’s no sense of foreboding doom.