If you’ve seen the trailer for “Dark Skies,” you pretty much already know what kind of boogeyman is causing all the ruckus in the film, which involves birds going berserk, bloody noses and bad dreams, along with other miscellaneous bedevilment. Even if you haven’t seen it, the movie tips its hand early by opening with a highly suggestive quote from science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. In the interest of preserving a tiny corner of the moviegoing world untainted by Too Much Information, I shall not repeat it.
It doesn’t matter, anyway. The movie builds a moderate, if less than monumental, level of spookiness, regardless of your ignorance. It’s a workmanlike piece of suspense.
That’s despite — and not because of — its reliance on several tired tropes of the genre, which include: the creepy kid/creepy crayon drawings; the paranormal expert; Internet-search-fueled paranoia; grainy security-cam footage; several it-was-all-a-dream sequences; and, last but not least, the infamous wall of newspaper clippings. We’ve all seen these, in umpteen thrillers, regardless of whether the bad guy is a poltergeist, a Martian, a serial killer or a Babylonian deity.
The movie starts slowly, as a suburban couple (Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton) and their two young sons start to notice odd things happening around the house, such as finding a towering construction of precariously piled food containers in the kitchen. (If this were a contemporary art museum, and not a ranch house, that would be cool, not creepy.)
From there, the weirdness just keeps getting weirder.
The alarm system malfunctions. All the family photos mysteriously disappear overnight. And then, the younger kid (Kadan Rockett) starts talking about someone called “the Sandman,” like he’s more than just his new imaginary friend. Soon he’s sleepwalking and going into catatonic states.
By this time, the film is genuinely unsettling, albeit in a way that’s never truly, deeply chilling. It works its way to a satisfying enough conclusion, even allowing for one fairly ridiculous inconsistency: Despite the fact that whoever (or whatever) is terrorizing this family initially seems to be able to walk through walls, there are several scenes where it appears, for some unexplained reason, to prefer conventional doors.
As “Dark Skies” builds to its modest climax, the malevolent supernatural force actually has to resort to removing wood screws from the barricades that the family has erected over their windows.
Oh well. It’s nice to know there are some things you can pick up at Home Depot that will, at the very least, slow down your nightmares.
(97 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for obscenity, drug use, brief sensuality and scary, violent imagery.