Two Thrillers from eOne Films
Dark Skies (May 25/13)
Dark Skies follows the Barrett family - mom Lacy (Keri Russell), dad Daniel (Josh Hamilton), and sons Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and Sam (Kaden Rockett) - as their lives are disturbed by increasingly sinister happenings, with the movie detailing the clan's efforts at both determining the cause of said happenings and, eventually, putting a stop to them by any means necessary. Filmmaker Scott Stewart has infused Dark Skies with a been-there-done-that type of feel that's often palpable, as the film, for the most part, contains many elements that have been employed in other similarly-themed endeavors - with, for example, Sam's ability to communicate with the mysterious presence certainly reminiscent of movies like Poltergeist, The Shining, etc. Stewart does, in the film's early stages, compensate for this atmosphere of familiarity by offering up spooky images of an impressively frightening nature, and there's little doubt that the movie's first big jump scare is, in sharp contrast to most "boo" moments, genuinely frightening and impressively unsettling. It's just as clear, however, that Stewart's slow-burn modus operandi becomes somewhat problematic in the film's hit-and-miss midsection, with the filmmaker's ongoing efforts at padding out the running time resulting in too many scenes of a decidedly needless nature (ie virtually everything involving Jesse's less-than-involving exploits). Dark Skies does improve substantially in the build-up to its expectedly outlandish final stretch, and it's interesting to note that the movie's highlight is a hypnotic sequence involving Lacy and Daniel's encounter with J.K. Simmons' grizzled Edwin Pollard (ie the actor delivers a monologue that's nothing short of mesmerizing). The end result is an uneven yet sporadically terrifying thriller that remains a cut above most teen-friendly fare, with the film's efficacy dependant primarily on one's feelings towards its primary threat.
The Reef follows four vacationing friends (Damian Walshe-Howling's Luke, Gyton Grantley's Matt, Adrienne Pickering's Suzie, and Zoe Naylor's Kate) as they head out into the ocean on a small sailboat, with the film subsequently detailing the characters' efforts at swimming to safety after the ship hits an underwater rock and capsizes. It's a premise that's been used to stellar effect in movies like Open Water and its in-name-only sequel, which subsequently ensures that The Reef's deliberately-paced first half fares rather poorly - as filmmaker Andrew Traucki offers up a selection of underwhelming, underdeveloped characters that remain virtually interchangeable from start to finish. (It is, in particular, quite difficult to distinguish between the film's two female characters, with the viewer's inability to sympathize with their plight growing more and more problematic as time progresses.) There's little doubt, however, that Traucki does a nice job of peppering the proceedings with admittedly tense sequences (eg Luke's efforts at retrieving supplies from the boat are threatened by encroaching sharks), with the sporadically tense atmosphere going a long way towards compensating for the palpable lack of momentum in the movie's midsection (ie there's an awful lot of infighting and scheming during this section of the narrative). And although the film's final stretch is unexpectedly engrossing, The Reef has been saddled with an abrupt and anticlimactic conclusion that's compounded by the inclusion of a low-rent (and made-for-TV-like) text coda - which ultimately cements the movie's place as a passable yet disappointing wildlife thriller.