Follow TV Tropes


Film / Dark Skies

Go To

Dark Skies is a 2013 horror film starring Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, and J. K. Simmons 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:

  • Abusive Parents: Lacy and Daniel are accused of this by one of their friends and the hospital after they find handprints and bruises on their kids' bodies. It also doesn't make it any better that Sam telling people that the 'Sandman' did this to him sounds like code for abuse.
  • Alien Abduction: The family experiences vaguely defined alien experiments.
  • Alien Invasion: Pollard claims that the aliens have already secretly invaded Earth and taken over somehow. He admits he doesn’t know why or how, and notes that the aliens’ motives are completely incomprehensible.
  • 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. It's then subverted in that the "alien expert" the family talks to says he's doubtful of the existence of insectoid or Lizard Folk aliens, and has to go through a quick Q&A with the parents to make sure they're not "nut jobs" pulling his leg.
  • 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.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Edwin Pollard, the alien expert. He is played by J. K. Simmons, after all.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Pollard has crossed it, having realized he is in a Cosmic Horror Story, and decided to stop fighting the aliens and, while perfectly willing to help victims of the aliens, he does his best to live out the rest of his days as peacefully as he can.
  • Downer Ending: The protagonists fail to fight off the aliens and Jesse 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 Sam's nose massively bleeding like Daniel'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, due to their many strange abilities. They can appear and disappear on a whim, manipulate people and objects at a distance, and can enter a building without any sign of forced entry (they do set off the alarms, but only when they want to). They also do not directly appear on a video camera.
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • 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.
  • Gaslighting: The aliens deliberately mess with the family in ways designed to make them question their sanity and isolate them from their neighbors, thus making them easy targets when the aliens finally come to collect.
  • The Greys: When talking with Pollard, he mentions them by name as the most likely culprits on what's going on with the Barretts. Indeed, both the drawings and general appearance, once they show up, follow the trope very closely.
  • Hermit Guru: While not a hermit living in a cave per se, Pollard, 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.
  • Hero of Another Story: Pollard, the alien expert and conspiracy theorist, who tries to fight the aliens before giving up and now spends his days helping other victims. He also mentions several other people victimized by the aliens, some of whom managed to fight them off, and a very small number of abductees who proved themselves such a nuisance that the aliens let them go.
  • Inscrutable Aliens: The narrative tells us outright that the advanced aliens' true motives cannot be understood by mere humans.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Jesse's best friend Ratner, who is a jackass, but when the aliens cause Jesse to go into a seizure, he is immediately concerned and brings him to the hospital. This results in Daniel beating the crap out of him out of the misguided belief he hurt his son.
  • 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.
  • 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: Daniel attempts on several occasions to be the intellectual and material "rock" in protecting the family, but it ends with his attacking Ratner and getting beat up by his father.
  • Oh, Crap!: While Daniel is looking through the security footage of his house, he pauses over a single glitchy frame that reveals a group of dark figures standing over the beds of each family member. The expression on his face just says it all.
  • 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.
  • Otherworldly Visits Youngest First: Zig-zagged. The film makes it seem like the youngest son is the target of the aliens, until the older son, Jesse is abducted. However, when his mother goes through his older drawings, she finds sketches of the aliens by Jesse from when he was an only child, and therefore the youngest when the visitations began.
  • People Puppets: The aliens use implants that allow them some control over humans, enough to make them perform simple tasks at least.
  • 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.
  • Rage Quit: The alien expert explains to the parents that the only way to beat the aliens is to make getting their target so difficult that they simply move on to someone less annoying. Fine in theory, impossible in practice, as the aliens just have to lure their target a few feet away from the family to nab him.
  • Recycled with a Gimmick: The movie is basically Poltergeist with the haunted-house conventions re-appropriated in an alien-abduction setting.
  • Reptilian Conspiracy: Alluded to, this is one of the conspiracies that probably *isn't* real.
  • 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 Supernatural-Proof Father situation 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.
  • Wham Line: When the alarm goes off in the middle of the night, Daniel has a talk over the phone with someone from the security company about the breach. She suspects it may be a glitch, as she states that every single entry point was breached at the same time.
  • Wham Shot: When Daniel is skimming through security footage frame by frame, he stops over one frame that suddenly reveals the Aliens standing over the beds of each family member. This is what eventually makes him believe that this is all real.
  • 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. Even their lawyer doesn't believe them about what exactly happened to their son.