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Familiar skies

The only real thing that can be said about “Dark Skies” is that it’s an average movie with an average running time with absolutely nothing memorable about it.

Surely I think I’ve seen nearly every scene found in this rather tepid horror movie in other movies. Some of the films it stole from were much better (like 1982’s perfect “Poltergeist”), but more often than not, director and writer Scott Stewart seemed to be most inspired to not only follow in the footsteps but to make a near carbon copy of other boring, unmemorable films, like 2002’s “Signs.”

The premise itself is rather unremarkable. It felt warm and cozy like an old friend who pays many visits, most recently in 2012’s Ethan Hawke-vehicle “Sinister.”

You see, it’s a horror movie about aliens and these aliens like to disturb the regular workings of any-town suburbia, USA, to terrorize a family. This causes the youngest child to make crude drawings of the visitors, which are always associated with some fairy-tale at first that the older sibling told to the youngest child directly preceding the events that take place. The fairy-tale visitor, be it alien or ghoul, of course, just wants to take the child or children off to another world or planet.

In this case, the youngest child, Sam (Kadan Rockett, who needs to start his own psychobilly band as soon as possible with a name like that), believes that the aliens are “the Sandman.” But he isn’t worried that the Sandman will pluck his eyeballs out because his older brother, Jesse, told him that they like big-kid eyeballs better.

This is a blueprint well-established for horror movies.

The Barretts are a typical, American nuclear family living in the suburbs and dealing with their own, mild trials and tribulations while maintaining a decent lifestyle. There are too many bills and too many worries.

Lacy Barrett (Kerri Russell), a realtor, is the only breadwinner at the start of the film because her husband, Daniel (Josh Hamilton) is an unemployed architect desperately searching for work primarily to avoid embarrassment and being asked about it by his neighbors. The neighbors, by the way, are a near-perfect microcosm of typical America, as evidenced by a cookout at the beginning of the movie that is as cliched as it appears scrumptious.

Just when Daniel ends his losing streak and lands a job at big, local architecture firm, other things begin to go awry to interfere with their new, hard-won success.

Lacy, being a good mother, checks on her children in the middle of the night and also makes the rounds to check that all the doors are locked when she discovers that the kitchen has become a total mess. The next day, of course, the family writes off the mess as being the fault of an animal that had made its way inside the home, albeit an animal with a preference for lettuce and the like rather than meats or junk foods.

The next day, all the photos are missing and the cops believe it to be one of the children having some emotional problems due to difficulties in the family. This is certainly a plausible explanation until the next discovery, where every single thing in the kitchen has been stacked in an overly complex and impossible manner akin to a long-term mathematical art-installation at the Museum of Modern Art. The construct refracts light through the bottles and jars and what-not in the towers, projecting an intricate design onto the ceiling that would immediately be recognized as a sign similar to crop circles by any real person. But the Bartletts have no idea what it is.

Anyway, Sam keeps being visited by the Sandman over and over, showing that aliens like to tease and torment before they abduct and perform whatever experiments or studies they want to do. The real lesson to be learned here is that aliens are more pranksters than they are ultra-advanced scientists who like to abduct random, un-noteworthy people to learn about how best to enslave the human race and use our planet as a satellite station.

The only saving grace to the film has about 10 minutes of screen time, if that. J.K. Simmons, one of the best character actors of all time, plays an alien-abduction expert that fills the parents in on what they need to know to “fight back” and save their children. The versatility of Simmons – who can play anybody from a sadistic leader of the Aryan Brotherhood in HBO’s ultra-violent prison drama, “OZ,” to Peter Parker’s editor at The Daily Planet in the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films, to an insurance agent in the Farmer’s Insurance commercials – is unparalleled in its ability to bring light to absolutely any mediocrity and raising it to a different level.

As mentioned earlier, though, nothing short of total mediocrity could be stomached by the director. Whatever benefit Simmons could have given to the film was kept to an absolute minimum where coming-of-age and irrelevant scenes featuring the teenage son, Jesse, were left in to add the necessary stumbling blocks to a cohesive film.

Really, despite what was said here, “Dark Skies” isn’t a terrible film. It’s just a mediocre bore that has been done before in many and, more often than not, better ways before, and will be again in the future.

(Flint McColgan is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News. His movie reviews appear in Thursday’s Arts &?Entertainment section.)