Monday, August 15, 2016
Movies that make other movies scarier
If I had seen Scott Stewart's Dark Skies a year ago, I probably would have found the 2013 movie to be a pretty well-crafted little alien abduction horror movie. I would have given it a positive star rating on Letterboxd and maybe not thought much more about it.
But because I saw it this year instead, I think I'm going to keep on thinking about it, keep on allowing it to horrify me in the deepest recesses of my brain.
Last Halloween I saw a documentary called The Nightmare, about a disorder some people experience called sleep paralysis. Without going into excessive detail about the disorder -- I did so in this post, if you want to read more -- I'll say that its symptoms are that you sense or even actually see a presence in your bedroom while you are trying to go to sleep, but you lack the ability to move your body to escape it. This is a dream, it would seem, but it's so realistic, and it's so little removed from your actual reality at the time, that it induces a kind of panic on the verge of madness. And it afflicts the same people over and over again, repeatedly, for months or even years on end.
What was probably most disturbing about it was that different people with sleep paralysis describe seeing the same types of creatures in their bedrooms -- and many of them conform to that traditional design of the almond-eyed alien, the one that appears so often in pop culture and really, throughout human history.
It's the same almond-eyed alien who appears in the poster above, though we don't really get to see it quite in that form in Dark Skies.
As a documentary, The Nightmare convinced me more than any fictional account would that these aliens have a legitimate claim to existing. If multiple real people explain seeing them in the same scenario, there's got to be something to that, right?
So this is not me coming out as believing in aliens. However, it is me acknowledging that there are things in this world (or other worlds) that we just don't understand. Evidence that is just too compelling to conform to some kind of so-called logical explanation.
The Nightmare, then, has made me suspectible to finding things to be scary that I would otherwise not have found scary. Like Dark Skies.
I should give Dark Skies a bit more credit than that, though. It's well shot, it's well acted (Keri Russell continues to remind me what a treasure she is), and it presents its familiar tropes with an undeniable technical skill. It's certainly a big step forward from director Scott Stewart's previous efforts, such as Legion (which I hated) and Priest (which I assumed was bad and did not even bother to see because I hated Legion so much). However, I should also acknowledge that even while making a very bad movie in Legion, Stewart still managed to present some frightening imagery that I will probably always remember.
Without The Nightmare, though, Dark Skies would not have burrowed down into my consciousness, would not have given me an extreme case of the willies as I walked down my darkened hallway to the bedroom after turning off the movie.