is a 2013 horror film about a typical American suburban family suddenly beset by strange occurrences: things are stacked in odd and impossible ways, crop-circle designs appear, hundreds of birds smash into the house, and one of the children reports nightly visits from a strange figure he calls "the sandman." The story is deeply psychological, with much of the dramatic tension coming from the inability of the characters to prove to the world outside the family just what is happening to them.
NB: Shares a title with a 90s TV show
This movie contains examples of:
- Adult Fear: Something is after your children and there is NOTHING you can do to stop them.
- Alien Abduction: The family experiences vaguely defined alien experiments.
- All Theories Are True: Pop-culture notions of alien abductions, crop circles and other 'supernatural' occurrences are shown to be true in the context of the story.
- In a partial subversion, the "alien expert" the family talks to says he's doubtful of the existence of insectoid or reptilian aliens.
- Angry Guard Dog: Lacy adopts an especially aggressive German Shepard to serve as this late in the movie.
- Animal Metaphor: The injured lizard in the beginning. This constitutes a bit of foreshadowing here early in the game. Lacy asks if Sammy's attempts at "nursing" it back to health is "compassion or torture," and Daniel jokingly replies, "I'll go with the latter."
- Blue and Orange Morality: It's explicitly stated that understanding the aliens' motivations, reasoning, or morality is practically impossible. They simply don't think like we do.
- Bring My Brown Pants: The younger son has a potty incident for some unapparent, but seemingly supernatural and sinister reason.
- Cassandra Truth: No one believes the family when they say that something horrible is happening to them, especially at the end when Jesse is taken by the aliens.
- Catapult Nightmare: The mother has one after waking from a dream where she thought that she lost control of her body and harmed herself in public. Then she learns it actually happened.
- The Chessmaster: The aliens have a secret plan that no mere mortal human can know and play mindgames with the family. Their mindgames serve to isolate them from people from the outside who could assist them or aid in reducing the psychological tension, which at least seems to be part of their plan.
- Clear Their Name: The family is suspected, at various points, of abuse and foul-play in their son's abduction.
- Cosmic Horror Story: The world is pretty much controlled by Sufficiently Advanced Alien beings whose motivations and reasoning are beyond human comprehension. We are simply used as experiments by them and there's no way we're going to fight them off, because they already took over everything without us knowing. Their plots can be thwarted but only on the off-chance that you make yourself such an annoyance that they decide to just start the experiment again with someone less irritating. The heroes fail to do so, just as expected.
- Creepy Child: The youngest son, Sammy, is this at times.
- Downer Ending: The protagonists fail to fight off the aliens and their eldest son is taken. And because nobody believes their insane story, they are now being investigated for his disappearance and could possibly have their other son taken away. The only bright spot is the very last scene which implies that the aliens may have decided to return the elder son. The alternate ending is even worse; ending with the remaining child's nose massively bleeding like the father's earlier which implies that after taking the elder son, the aliens might still come back to take the younger son, too.
- Eldritch Abomination: The aliens border on this.
- Evil-Detecting Dog: The family buys one specifically for this purpose. It's also lampshaded and discussed. Apparently dogs react aggressively in the presence of the aliens, but cats don't for whatever reason.
- Alien contact results in sickness. The older boy was sick a lot when he was born: He was the one the aliens had first contact with.
- The visit to the expert gives them an idea of things to come, not just what the aliens might do, but what kind of social conditions the family can expect.
- The Grays: While the other pop-culture alien groups (e.g., The Reptilians) are alluded to, these bad boys are the villains.
- Genre Savvy: The mother, Lacy, gets a better understanding of the crop circles, mass bird attractions, lost time, etc. via the internet.
- Hermit Guru: While not a hermit living in a cave per se, the Smart Guy who enlightens the parents before the Papa Wolf/Mama Bear turning point in the film, does have some things in common with Hermit Gurus in general; e.g. the crazy apartment he lives in, which the camera takes pains to show us extensively; the number of cats he has; and, most importantly, his social isolation.
- Inscrutable Aliens: The narrative tells us outright that the advanced aliens' true motives cannot be understood by mere humans.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Are the weird happenings in the initial stages of the film just natural, or are they caused by CGI-generated citizens of the Delta Quadrant?
- Mind Screw: The vision the aliens give the eldest son confuses us as well; it's justified as it was meant to confuse and distract him.
- Mix and Match: The movie is basically Poltergeist with the haunted-house conventions re-appropriated in an alien-abduction setting.
- Mother Nature, Father Science: Pretty gendered stuff here: The father tries to put the brakes on his wife's suspicions about something supernatural being at work, looks instead for a rational explanation (which leads him to several Not So Stoic moments).
- Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book: Sammy's drawings of the aliens. In her research on the subject, Lacy sees that other children of families targeted by the aliens drew the same exact things. Later on, Lacy finds some of Jesse's childhood drawings depicting the aliens too.
- No Peripheral Vision: In one scene, the mother is walking down a hallway while an alien sneaks up right behind her. She doesn't turn around.
- Not So Stoic: The father attempts on several occasions to be the intellectual and material "rock" in protecting the family, but it ends with his attacking the neighbor kid and getting beat up by his father in front of the middle-class, suburban neighbors he's always tried to keep up a good masculine-family-guy facade for.
- Or Was It a Dream?: One of the first indications that there may be a supernatural invader in the home is the younger boy's telling the mother that the Sandman visited him in his dream.
- Police Are Useless: A cop comes and just blames all of the sinister weirdness on a family member sleepwalking or on a kid with a psychological problem, resulting in epic You Have to Believe Me.
- Properly Paranoid: To everyone else, it looks like the family's gone completely bonkers. This is exactly what The Greys wanted.
- The Reveal: They were after the older son all along.
- Shout-Out: To E.T.A. Hoffmann's 19th-century gothic short-story The Sandman, which the older son reads to the younger as a bedtime story. Both stories play with Through the Eyes of Madness and Unreliable Narrator extensively. There's also some parallels in the Romanticism Versus Enlightenment of the mother and father (respectively) in Sandman to the Mother Nature, Father Science in Dark Skies. More generally, both works operate on the fear of someone in the story being the unwitting subject of a strange and ghastly experiment by The Conspiracy.
- The Smart Guy: The expert on alien abductions who helps lead the parents to accept what's happening, conveniently right before the aliens abduct the son.
- Supernatural Proof Father: Until a decisive moment near the end of the film, he staunchly refuses to believe. Once he does, it's Papa Wolf time.
- Things That Go Bump in the Night: Obviously. The aliens are mostly working the third shift.
- Crop Circles: While not in the crops, brief glimpses of these appear throughout.
- Sleep Walking: Some mystery is created by the viewer's and the character's not knowing whether someone is sleepwalking and arranging things in a troubling way in the house.
- Through the Eyes of Madness: Characters in the story are at various times presumed to be hallucinating or just suffering from some weird form of schizophrenia, which contributes more drive and psychological tension to the story line.
- Tragic Mistake: They didn't want the younger son, they wanted the older one.
- Unreliable Narrator: The story is told through the eyes of people with alien implants.
- You Have to Believe Me: The mother wants the cop and her husband to believe her that there's something going on in the house and they just play it off as one of the kids going off the deep end. The first three-quarters of the film is the mother against the father within the framework of the aforementioned Mother Nature, Father Science. Even their lawyer doesn't believe them about what exactly happened to their son.