Dark Skies Gives Hope to New Horror

Sometimes you just get lucky. I’ve seen Dark Skies pop up on my TV for weeks, so last night I said, ‘what the heck, I’ll buy it.’ And I’m glad I did.

Overall, Dark Skies was an impressive new horror movie. It gave me hope that some people know how to make a good horror movie, and other directors and producers should pay attention. It was well shot and planned, and it has major rewatch value.

Let’s dig in. Here are a few of highlights from the movie: Contains spoilers!

The Plot Is Refreshing

I cannot express how satisfying it is to include the plot in this review. Dark Skies tells the story of a family who becomes ‘haunted’ – not the house, the family. Think The Conjuring but with the whole family. However, ghosts do not haunt them; aliens do. I know it sounds odd at first, but embrace it. They are creepier than you think. Also, the movie plays a constant mind game with the audience, but it’s done so well you don’t realize it until the very end.

Note to Hollywood: The plot different but not stupid. It moves quickly, but there are few if any plot holes. It’s not a remake (thank goodness!). If a plot has been done 20 times in the last five years, don’t make the movie.

A Real Family

Every family has issues, money problems, stress, etc. sometimes. The Barrets have normal problems like unemployment and money issues, but I was thrilled that neither parent was an alcoholic. I think Hollywood throws alcohol into the mix to create a crazy scene or break a character down, but sometimes it’s not necessary. The villain should do the job and break down the characters.

The parents (Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton) have stress that affects their relationship, but they also work on the issues. They try to care for and love their kids. The brothers are close – adorable even – but they still have their own friends and interests. The Barrets feel real and believable, and you can’t blame them for the haunting. They are a normal 21st-century family.

Note to Hollywood: The actors did an amazing job. There were few special effects, and my awesome RevPub partner pointed out, “it was just actors doing  good job of being weird.” Also, pay attention to the scene with J.K. Simmons. It was a clear, concise way to explain everything. It also has a great line, “Nothing. Nothing makes you special.”

The Grays

I could do a post on the aliens alone. They torture this family, and it starts immediately. First, there are “break-ins” (the cop is an idiot by the way). Then the Barrets start to lose complete control. They have time lapses, become “possessed”, and do some crazy and creepy things. The audience never sees a Gray up close, which is awesome because it reduces the possibility of stupid effects. The Grays take this family over, and it eventually leads to abduction. They’re threatening, and it feels like it could happen to anyone. There’s no escape.

Note to Hollywood: Not seeing the monster is an effective way to scare an audience. It’s much more subtle.

Closure Is Everything

Ending a horror movie well remains one of the biggest obstacles in the genre. It’s hard to do because there are variables, and they can all feel the same. Dark Skies did it, though. The story ties into itself, a sequel is possible, no one jumps out or into the camera for a cheap scare. The aliens abduct a family member. Everything is not dismal or perfect. The Grays won, but at least the family survived, and there’s hope. It ended better than most modern horror movies, and I appreciate that.

Note to Hollywood: Stop using jump/cheap scares at the end. It’s getting annoying and repetitive.

I could go on and on about this movie, but I suggest seeing it yourself. If you’re on the fence about the alien thing, just go with it. I was a little skeptical at first because I was scared it was going to be dumb, but it wasn’t. Dark Skies is an effective, fun scary movie.

Feel free to let us know what you think about it in the comments below!

Alien (1979) – The Perfect Organism

I admittedly came late to the appreciation for this film. I saw the more action-packed sequel (previously covered in a “best sequel” post and covered in more detail next week) first as a kid and saw the original Ridley Scott film a couple years later. As a kid I expected to find the same high-energy sci-fi action of the second film in the franchise and instead found a slow-paced, tension-building, character-based horror movie.  I should warn these reviews WILL have spoilers, so if you’ve been drifting right between all the security grids for the past 57 years you should turn back now…

Seeing this movie as an adult I came to find new appreciation for it.

Alien is the earliest film in this review series and it establishes a number of broad traits the more successful movies of both franchises would also possess: characters you care about are established effortlessly through natural dialogue, the plot starts with misdirection, even though it’s science fiction the atmosphere and world are deep and believable, and it spans multiple genres.

The first trait is perhaps the most important for Alien. When the crew of the Nostromo awaken, out of position and given directives from the company to perform the unwelcome task of exploring a distress beacon, their interactions let you know everything about them.   Parker and Brett played perfectly by Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton are the tag-team tradesmen of the bunch, low-men on the ladder more concerned with getting better rates than anything. Lambert played by Veronica Cartwright is a bit nervous and put-upon. Kane portrayed by the terrific John Hurt seems tired but eager. The dry and serious Ash, the Science Officer played ominously by Ian Holm. And Captain Dallas as portrayed by Tom Skerritt is calm and smooth but definitely in charge. So diverse and effective is the cast that a first-time viewer may not be aware that Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, a warrant officer and third in chain of command, is the star of the film. Oh and there’s also Jonesy the cat.

John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Tom Skerritt, Yaphet Kotto, Sigourney Weaver, Harry Dean Stanton, and Ian Holm.

The final character introduced is the vessel itself, the Nostromo. Even though it is a starship for deep space travel it’s treated as mundane as an oil rig, and indeed it is simply a towing vessel for cargo or refineries. With a crew of less than 10 parts of the cavernous ship are bright white, well maintained, and unique.  Other parts are rugged, rusty, worn out, and solitary. Many of the spaces appear to be abandoned but loaded with materials giving much of the ship a junk-room feel. Those parts are the bridge of the USS Storage Room.

The turning point of Alien shouldn’t be a surprise, after all the movie is 36 years old, but DEFINITELY back out now if you’ve never seen it. The film opens in a very mundane manner, characters talking work, complaining, you see cliques and relationships before being sent to examine the unknown signal the computer has picked up. While exploring the beacon the away team finds rows of eggs and Kane ends up with a fingery-spider creature (later called a “facehugger”) attached to his head. They are unable to remove it and the creature eventually falls off and dies. Kane appears to be recovering, but later over dinner he begins to seize and a little toothy beast (later known as a “chestburster”) crashes through his ribs and skitters across the table.

Hello my baby…

This scene, in 1979, was shocking, especially to those used to the fun space opera romps or heavy dramatic sci-fi that copied the 2001 formula, as Alien pretends to for the first 30 minutes.

From that point on Alien becomes half slasher film half And Then There Were None as the crew searches the ship for the little beast, which they soon find has grown into a big beast, and are picked off one or two at a time. The difference between Alien and most slasher movies is you actually care about the characters and hope they aren’t the next one to have their brains gouged from their skull by HR Geiger’s double-mouthed Xenomorph.

It even commits a number of slasher movie clichés, such as a literal, but effective, unexpected, and sensible “cat-jumping” scene where Jonesy leaps out and runs. The scene serves as excellent misdirection, a quick jump scare, and breaks the team up for a moment (people never “split up” and go off on their own out of contact from the others, they stay in teams or always in communication), setting up the real scare that followed.  It also contains, what I think, is the best final girl trope in history.  You can read my thoughts on that here.

The cramped pipe-filled confines and dark, drippy atmosphere make it a natural place for the alien to hide and randomly appear to grab an unfortunate crew-member and scare the audience.

Scott made the best of the technology of the time. The alien creature was a performer in a suit so he kept the xenomorph hidden in shadows, obscured by scenery, and eventually they keep track of it using motion sensors, effectively creating tension with blips on a screen much like the barrels attached to the shark in Jaws. The practical effects give the alien an eerie feel, with tension provided by music and the intensity of the cast performances.

One excellent scene has Captain Dallas creeping through the ducts looking for the alien with a flamethrower. As the intensity ramps up the Dallas declares “Get me the hell out of here” while music, blips on the screen, and supporting performances build up to an awesome climax.

The second big misdirection is Ash, whose secret agenda comes as a shock when it’s revealed. Even after the initial shock of an eyeless snake with legs tearing its way through John Hurt the Ash subplot proves the film still has enough left to surprise you again.

“I can’t lie to you about your chances, but… you have my sympathies…”

Even amongst an excellent ensemble cast, Sigourney Weaver comes into her own as the break out star of the movie. At first she’s simply the only character with any sense; refusing to let Kane back into the ship while he has a creepy face-monster gripping his skull. She also shows she won’t take shit from some of the dissatisfied crew and even takes full command when the situation demands it. We admire and relate to her emotions, when she screams at the ship’s computer we feel her anger, and when she discovers Ash’s secrets we share her tears of rage. Then she saves the cat. Full scores all around.

Ridley Scott’s Alien in a number of ways marks the end of the space dramas of the 60s and 70s. For me it had the same effect on space films as Appetite for Destruction had on the glitzy hair metal of the 80s, once it arrived changed the landscape and there was no going back. The plodding pace, inactivity, and shallow/obscure plots of other space films would no longer suffice. Audiences now expected shocks, plot twists, and visceral climaxes in their movies.

It truly helped found the modern sci-fi space genre, spawned numerous clones, and continues to inspire other franchises today.

Every film in this review series across both franchises owes their existence to Alien and we, as sci-fi fans owe many of our other fandoms to it.

A solid and grown-up four and a half hugged faces out of 5.

AlienRating

New Revenant Publications Merchandise on Redbubble

Exciting news! Many of our original designs have new products available on RedBubble, an online community of artists and creators.

With the holidays approaching, these make great gifts. Or if you want to treat yourself, we have lots of great ideas. Here’s a sampling for your viewing pleasure:

Moogle pencil skirt

Cute pencil skirts in many of our designs! Look at this cute Moogle pencil skirt!

 

Moogle laptop skin

Laptop skins and phone cases too!

 

 

skull slime stationary

Skull slime stationary! Have original designs just in time for getting back to school. Regular slime and Halloween designs are also available!

 

Mega Byte Me bags

Our most popular design is now in bags, skirts and more. Great old-school throwback!

Mega Byte Me cups

Cups too! These make great gifts.

 

Revenant Publications scarf

You know I’ll order one of these! With winter coming, I’m going to stay warm in style.

If you’d like to view Revenant Publication’s complete portfolio, check us out at http://www.redbubble.com/people/tigressmuse

Thanks to all of our readers and followers, and if there’s a design up that you want in a specific product, feel free to let us know in the comments below!