I'm like 85% sure "Dark Skies" is a real movie.
A few weeks ago, a friend described the film to me in vague terms — something about ghosts and aliens and that woman, what's her name, the one from that show — and I honestly thought she might have dreamed the entire thing up until she went home and found the trailer. And, yes, there is one. And an official website. The site, at least, is definitely real.
There are real actors that seem to be in it: Keri Russell, J.K. Simmons. I got at least one press release about a junket. As I'm writing this on Friday morning it has four reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, including one from Movie Nation's Roger Moore who calls it "a sometimes hair-raising riff on all the 'Communions' that have come before." He makes it sound like a real movie that actually exists.
I'm still not sure. Earlier this week, JoBlo.com tweeted that the film's distributor (the "film"'s distributor), Dimension, was ordering critics who saw the movie (the "movie") at the press junket not to write about it until Friday at 6:00 PM, several hours after it opened in theaters around the country. This is an unusual step. Of course, no one can stop critics from just paying their own money to see "Dark Skies" the midnight of its release and then reviewing it — unless the midnight screenings never happen due to technical error.
That's exactly what happened to me and several other critics who tried to see the film last night. When I arrived at the 12:01 "Dark Skies" screening at New York's AMC Loews Village 7 theater with Mike Ryan of the Huffington Post, the lobby was completely empty. There were five people waiting for the film upstairs, and by showtime, there were thirteen people total in the auditorium (including another fellow critic, Hollywood.com's Jenni Miller). After an uneventful assortment of pre-show advertisements and AMC's house introduction to the trailers, the screen went black.
A darkness far darker than the darkest skies filled the room. After 5 minutes, we started to wonder whether the movie was actually a Warholian exercise; 98 minutes of nothing but the sounds from the next theater. After 10 minutes of waiting with no change and no word from anyone on staff, Mike actually called the theater from his cell phone to tell them there was a problem (We were on the 7th floor and didn't want to walk all the way back down to the lobby to find someone). The woman who answered told him that this was absolutely normal, that we should expect to hear sounds but see no images (because I guess that's what happens at the movies?), and that "Dark Skies" would start promptly at 12:15.
Readers, "Dark Skies" did not start at 12:15. Or 12:30. Or ever.
This whole time, no one from the theater came to check on us, and I'm fairly sure no one would have if one of the other audience members hadn't finally gotten fed up and complained. I genuinely believe that if she hadn't said something, we might still be sitting there. Waiting for a movie we're all relatively certain is a tangible thing.
Eventually, a manager did arrive to tell us there was a problem with the "actual projector" and that they were working to fix it. Finally, at around 12:45 AM, the manager returned and announced that due to a "corrupted file," the film would not be shown. We were given a refund and shown the door.
Now I'm not saying Dimension is pretending to release a movie called "Dark Skies" that doesn't actually exist in this, y'know, dimension. I'm just saying if you were pretending to release a movie that doesn't actually exist, this is EXACTLY how you would do it.
And kidding aside, on a night as disheartening as that one, a critic starts to wonder why they even bother. Obviously, the distributor is hoping we won't. Without even a single screening for press, the message is clear: we have so little faith in this product that we'd actually prefer if you didn't cover it at all.
So why should we?
I actually struggled with this a little last night, my very own long "Dark Skies" night of the soul. Am I wasting my time? Am I wasting my life? Should I quit and find a new profession? Maybe I could become a freelance projectionist, traveling from theater to theater, ensuring DCP failures are fixed in a timely fashion.
Eventually (i.e. with enough time and low-quality alcohol), I realized that the reason to keep covering movies even when the filmmakers don't want you to is the same reason you cover any other movie: optimism. Just because a studio thinks their movie is bad doesn't mean it is. Two of "Dark Skies"' reviews on Rotten Tomatoes so far are positive, and FEARnet's Scott Weinberg tweeted that he thought the movie — which he confirms exists in a form visible to human eyeballs — is "actually OK." If a critic is at all a consumer guide, then his or her readers deserve a head's up about these oddball projects, good or bad, as well.
I often find these strange little movies that are quietly dumped into theaters are sometimes the most interesting to write and think about, for reasons I outlined in my piece last month about why I enjoy going to the movies in January — namely these misfits are one of the few places left in mainstream filmmaking where idiosyncrasy still lives. Now, that idiosyncrasy might wind up being unbearably awful — but at least it's a little bit different too.
After the entire affair, Mike, Jenni, and I adjourned to a nearby bar to drown our sorrows. Mike noted that there's no way the movie could have been more entertaining than the lunacy of sitting in a dark room for almost an hour with eleven surprisingly disinterested (possibly ghost/alien-possessed) human beings who showed no sign of distress when the movie never started and no signs of disappointment when the screening was cancelled. We all laughed, but a small part of me disagreed. Or at least optimistically hoped he was wrong — that maybe Dimension doesn't realize what they have with "Dark Skies" and that it's actually a smart, scary movie and that someday I'll get to see it and write a positive review of it.
But that would entail it actually existing. Which, again, I'm still not completely sold on. I'm at like 90% now. Maybe 92%.