Dark Skies opens in theaters this week (Friday, February 22nd) and ShockTillYouDrop.com had an opportunity to speak with actress Keri Russell (The Americans) and producer Jason Blum.
Russell and Josh Hamilton star in the film as a suburban couple whose lives become a nightmare when a terrifying alien presence enters their home each night to prey upon their children. Increasingly isolated from skeptical friends and neighbors, the couple is forced to take matters into their own hands to save their family.
Scott Stewart (Legion, Priest) directs. Head inside for the interviews!
Shock Till You Drop: You don’t do genre all that much, so what brought you into the fold on this one?
Keri Russell: I don’t, but I read this and thought this was going to work. It was so solid and what Scott Stewart did with the script was create this family movie, like Poltergeist, and I totally bought it. I saw a screening recently and invited a gaggle of my girlfriends to come with me and it was so fun. Because, I guess, I haven’t done anything like this before, it was thrilling. You’re laughing through your fear.
Shock: What elements of the story did you relish?
Russell: Honestly, it felt very grounded the whole time. My whole job on this was mom protecting family, mom protecting kids. Even when things got weird, that’s what I’m doing. It doesn’t matter what you’re fending off, you’re mom protecting kids. I’m still doing the same thing, but one of the things I did think about when things get REALLY crazy, I thought a lot about Katrina. That was my best analogy for it – to be a parent and know something out of control is heading your way and not knowing if you can protect your kids. You’re going to do everything you can, but how heartbreaking it is…I don’t know if I can stop it. I think this is a beautiful, scary film. You have these close-ups, hearing them breathe, this heightened sense of fear. It’s cool.
Shock: And in the midst of this, you have to also build a plausible husband-wife dynamic with Josh.
Russell: Yeah, he’s such a good actor. He’s been doing it forever and there’s a reality to his work. I bought that marriage and I saw the stress of it. How inadequate…how it affects their relationship. When you’re not in a good place as a couple it puts stress on everything. That set-up was very important in order to believe the scary stuff at the end.
Shock: All of the occurrences felt like a disease corroding the family…
Russell: Yes, absolutely. When Scott came to us, he told us he wanted it to be real. What we talked about was this metaphor of a family falling apart. This suburban family with the perfect two kids, a house they can’t afford, there are all of these things and they’re barely keeping it together. When the scary stuff happens, it’s all about them trying to keep it out.
Shock: You brought up Poltergeist earlier…
Russell: Yeah, we talked about that film a lot. You wanted to believe in the family first and that movie is a good example. It’s a story about a family first. Close Encounters was another thing we were going for. In the genre, for me, I love films like The Others and Pan’s Labyrinth.
Shock: Nice choice…
Russell: Talk about scary!
Shock: There’s a “force” at work in the film and you come face to face with it. Did Scott give you a good idea of what you were going to be seeing ahead of time?
Russell: Yeah, we had a rough idea of what he was thinking about. Obviously, we didn’t have anything in front of us though.
Shock Till You Drop: Scott came from an FX background and then leapt into these larger movies with lots of FX. When he came to you with this project was it small and contained as it is now?
Jason Blum: He wanted to do a really contained, scary movie. Not an FX-driven movie. The movie is remarkably close to what he pitched me. The one difference is, the movie he originally pitched was found footage. I said, ‘I don’t see a reason to do this found footage, let’s do it traditionally told.’ Otherwise, it’s close to the story. He wanted to do a scary, character-driven, emotional movie.
Shock: Being known for producing found footage films, what were the elements of this story that were swaying you away from doing the film that way?
Blum: I don’t think you should do movies in found footage unless there’s no other way to tell them. If a movie could be done either way, I think doing found footage brings up a lot of creative questions than it answers – like if the story is based around a documentary crew or something like that… Like on [Bryan Bertino's] Mockingbird, the concept is “turn off the camera and you’ll die,” so that’s found footage. But I think if [a movie] can be done either way, I tend to not do found footage.
Shock: This film calls upon a very familiar genre staple, but what are its strengths to you?
Blum: Well, the film is about a family in trouble. The dark force that’s f**king with them has very little screen time. To me, that’s not what the movie is about. This is a family getting unsettled by a devious force and what happens when that seaps into the house and how the family dynamic breaks down as a result of that.
Shock: How did Scott surprise you as a director?
Blum: One of the things he talked about a lot, and I really liked, is he’s really an actor’s director. I think these movies live or die, first and foremost, on the script, but a very close second, on the actors and how good they are. How they suspend your disbelief that you stop looking at actors and start looking at actors. Scott believed that, too. And one of the things I’m proud of is the way Josh and Keri felt real as a couple. The family feels real.
Shock: A lot of Blumhouse films are built on the foundation of the family dynamic – Sinister, Insidious, some of the Paranormal Activity films, Dark Skies, the upcoming Mercy – what is the appeal for you?
Blum: For me, and I just speak for myself, they’re scary when things start with familiar situations. A mom, a dad, two kids. You take situations we all have and throw a wrench into them. I’m always attracted to those scary movies.
Shock: Are there any particular movies that inspire you guys?
Blum: Poltergeist is always brought up on almost everything we do. A lot of horror movies, they start with the scares and built a story around that. We build a story and then work on the scary parts. But story and character always comes first.
Shock: Now that this film is coming out, what are you most excited about in the coming year. You have a lot of movies on the way.
Blum: I’m definitely most excited about this movie, I’m really proud of it and think it delivers in ways that I really like. I’m really excited about The Purge with Ethan Hawke, our first movie with Universal, but you’re right we have a big year.