It's called Dark Skies. It's produced by the people who developed the Paranormal Activity series, and incorporates some of the "video realism" technique of those films.
What I liked about the movie was what some reviewers hated: its vagaries and slow pace. Rather than following action/horror film conventions, i.e., lots of special effects and overly-long chase sequences, it builds to a slow boil. When the aliens do appear, they're mostly in shadows, probably due to cost constraints. But rather than look cheesy, this just adds to their menacing otherness. And its the chill of this otherness that intrigued me most about the film.
The movie centers on a middle-class suburban family, down on its luck because of the economy. The father (Josh Hamilton) is looking for a job. The mother (Keri Russell) sells Real Estate but, since her conscience won't let her hype dingy properties to close a deal, her career is hurting too. Their adolescent son is becoming alienated from these "losers"; their younger kid is haunted. He draws pictures of strange beings holding him by the hand.
Disturbing signs build as the movie proceeds. Flocks of birds dive bomb into their windows. Some mornings, they find toys, canned food and kitchenware built into bizarre towers in their living room, as if some outsider artist were at work. Menacing bruises appear on the kids' bodies and behind the ears of the grown-ups. A web search by Russell reveals that these are all signs of an alien home invasion.
This discovery results in a trip to the city to visit the local ufologist, who, judging from his even dingier apartment, is even more down-on-his-luck than our suburban couple. (Whom the alien gods would destroy, they first make unemployed.)
After reviewing the family's symptoms, he offers a dire prognosis. They're being readied for the abduction of one of their members. This can only be prevented if the family sticks together to fight off the alien invaders.
During this scene comes the most crucial conversation of the flick: "why" Russell asks, "did they choose us? What makes us so special?" To which the abduction expert tells them that there's actually nothing at all special about them, and that, in fact, mere humans can't understand why they choose who they do. This would be like being lab rats trying to understand the mind of the scientist performing the experiments on them.
It's this sentiment, I think, that justifies the murky, vague quality of much of what goes in this this film. If there are beings we never see clearly, and clues and loose ends that are never tied up neatly, this all goes to support the general incomprehensibility of the characters' experience.
H.P. Lovecraft's "Weird Realism" (According to Graham Harman)
All of which brought to mind a book I've been reading by the philosopher Graham Harman. Titled Weird Realism, it examines the stories of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. Though some consider Lovecraft Poe's true successor, others complain that his "purple prose" is merely sensationalist, kitschy and most of all, vague.
Harman defends Lovecraft on this score, arguing that what his work is actually about is how impossible it is to capture reality through our representational systems. And in this light, the garish, literal approaches of much conventional pop culture often miss the boat. As he puts it:
"The meaning of being might even be defined as untranslatability. Language (and everything else) is obliged to become an art of allusion or indirect speech, a metaphorical bond with a reality that cannot possibly be made present. Realism does not mean that we are able to state correct propositions about the real world. Instead, it means that reality is too real to be translated without remainder into any sentence, perception, practical action or anything else."
This explains why, in Dark Skies, though an alien figure is eventually recorded by the elaborate home surveillance cameras the father sets up, he doesn't go to the police -- insisting he won't be believed. Because he won't be. What appears on video is too traumatic for a mere camera to represent. Presumably, the police wouldn't believe their eyes, even if they saw it.
And what makes the film scary is in fact this pervasive "unstranslatability." This quality even adds a touch of horror to the precariousness of the characters' economic prospects (that seem controlled by incomprehensible forces as well).
In short, what makes the fear in Dark Skies seem real is the fact that the film can't fully articulate what it's scared of. Thoughts?