MPAA RATING: R Running Time: 83 min Directed by: Victor Bornia Written by: Victor Bornia Starring: Rider Strong, Danielle Keaton, Danica Stewart
The sky is darkening like a stain; Something is going to fall like rain, And it won't be flowers.
-WH Auden 'The Witness'
Is there intelligent life in the universe? Have they come here? If they have, what is their interest in human society? Eric Rainer, the narrator of Darkening Skies (written and directed by Victor Bornia), starts the film as skeptic, and ends as something not entirely certain. During an evening run he looks up the sky, and sees the stars slowly disappearing. With every passing night, more do.
Rainer is working on a doctoral thesis about common themes in alien abduction stories. He asks, is there a universal intrinsic need in humans that they need to feel that there is something out there, something besides ourselves. One basis of his initial arguments is a quote from Carl Sagan. The same Carl Sagan who brought the Drake Equation* to light for millions of non-astronomers via his program Cosmos.
From his initial inexplicable headaches, to the time lapses he experiences, to the lucid dreams he bears, we begin to see that reality for Eric is slowly unraveling. His girlfriend disappears during the night. He tries to find evidence of where she is with no results. He does however meet Beth, the niece of his neighbor Harold. She comes on inexplicably strong, until she finally admits she recently lost her boyfriend. He disappeared one night after complaining of strange headaches much like Eric's.
He also noted he had a strange scar on his abdomen which he could not explain, and it's a scar that Eric claims to have as well. They attend a meeting of alien abduction believers, and despite their initial ridicule, there are elements to the story that resound with them undeniably. There are "reptoid shape-shifters" among us. Why are they here? What do they want?
Harold nails it when he says he thinks that they are "up to something."
How can you argue with that?
In his thesis/narrative, Eric also makes note of the number of unexplained disappearances that occur every year in the US. As the conceit of the film becomes more entwined with an acceptance of alien abduction the assumption becomes clear, many of those disappearances are UFO related.
If the protagonist's doctoral thesis in this film were held up to the same scrutiny as my Comp I were, well... there'd be no degree in this guy's future. It's not that the idea is unreasonable. It's not even untenable as a scholarly topic. The problem is that the generalizations the narrative makes about human behavior are, at best simplistic, and at worst wrong.
As Eric and Beth probe deeper into the mystery around them they encounter more and more questioning characters. People Eric grows to distrust immensely. A character called only the "Professor" (he does absolutely nothing with cocoanuts by the way) makes a strong allegory for what the aliens might want from humans. The genetic differences between man and his fellow mammals are almost infinitesimal. If we were going to breed animals for replacement organs wouldn't we pick a race as close to us in makeup as possible? Is that all the aliens want from us?
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS BLAH BLAH BLAH ETC. ETC. ETC.
Now, it has to be said, I spent this whole movie waiting for the Tyler Durden moment.
I was not disappointed.
The movie ends on a slightly ambiguous note. Slightly.
The only person who "sees" any concrete signs of alien presence is Eric. Eric eventually remembers that he killed his girlfriend. He kills the professor and Harold. All of the events that occur in response to the urging of Eric's imaginary friend are clearly performed by the mentally ill Eric, not aliens.
And yet, the Doctor Eric talks to about finishing his doctorate seems to be a psychiatrist who had treated Eric in the past. She has a series of MRI printouts of a brain, presumably Eric's. Mostly it looks like any other brain you might meet on a regular spring day, except for one brief moment towards the end when the camera zooms in on one shot and a small square is seen in the frontal lobe of Eric's brain. To quote Prometheus, "God doesn't work in straight lines." Nor does routinely place perfectly square items in the human brain.
The movie goes heavily into alien mind control; the implication is that the fragments of Eric's abduction memories are real, that the aliens are using him to assist them in their harvesting efforts. There's some sense in this. Eric can walk easily through the world without trying to hide.
Nitpick: When Eric finds the spleen in his yard he says it's a vestigial organ, like the appendix.
The spleen is still a vibrant piece of human anatomy. It is a central part of the lymphatic system, removing toxins from the body before they build up to dangerous levels.
Please, Mr. Bornia, the spleen deserves an apology.
*The Drake Equation s a measurement for determining the number of potential populations in the universe who are capable of radio communication. In short, it takes the number of stars in the galaxy, factors the odds of them having a planet capable of supporting life, excluding extinction events, and considering whether their civilizations may have evolved at a point in time relativistic of ours. The number varies depending on the level of optimism applied by the calculating astronomer. Results for the Milky Way have varied between 1,000 and one hundred million depending on the figures used.