A-haunting we go with Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton in dire Dark Skies; Oscar-winning Amour a heart-rending tale of life, death

by Mark Burger

Dark Skies is a talky, mundane horror film designed for quick box-office payoff. At least it doesn’t purport to be based on or “inspired by” actual events, nor is it a found-footage shocker, although surveillance video does come into play eventually.

Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton play Lacey and Robert Barrett, an all-American couple living in an all-American suburb which their all- American kids Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and Sam (Kadan Rockett). Robert’s been out of work awhile, so there are rustlings of domestic discord within the household.

Then, of course, the spooky doings commence. Sam starts sleepwalking, the security alarm starts tripping by itself and hundreds of birds suddenly decide to dive-bomb the house. During one of their frequent, and frequently tiresome, conversations, Lacey and Robert discuss how the neighbors have been talking. Indeed, everyone in this film does a lot of talking, but no one seems to be doing anything.

Under the heavy hand of writer/director Scott Stewart, Dark Skies lurches through all-too-familiar territory, with Russell and Hamilton suitably worried-looking throughout. JK Simmons picks up an easy check as the resident authority on things that go bump in the night, duly located through the internet. The veteran actor makes the most of a stock role, in what turns out to be very much a stock film.

Dark Skies is not very scary and not very interesting, and commits the unpardonable sin of being dull. By the time the precise nature of the family’s nemesis has been specifically (more or less) identified, it’s beyond help and beyond interest. It’s a pallid Poltergeist knock-off with a Signs topping. Few tricks and no treat whatsoever.

Writer/director Michael Haneke’s Amour is a heartbreaking depiction of the ravages of old age, one that requires no additional, unnecessary sentiment or soap-opera accoutrements to make a powerful, even searing, impact.

Screen veterans Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva portray Georges and Anne Laurent, long-married and long-retired music teachers living out their twilight years in reasonable comfort and contentment. Unbeknownst to either, however, Anne’s health will rapidly, unexpectedly decline following surgery. The end is coming too quickly for either of them to contemplate, and as Anne’s personality erodes, Georges is left to ruminate on a bleak future.

Anne’s physical and mental decline is conveyed in unblinking terms, as is its devastating emotional impact on those around her.

As impressive as Riva’s (Oscar-nominated) performance is, so too are the performances of Trintignant and the ageless Isabelle Huppert, who plays Georges and Anne’s daughter Eva. They attempt to face up to the inevitable with dignity, even when the circumstances are anything but dignified.

Low-key and always believable, Amour lives up to its title, which translates as “love.” This is a love story between two people whose decades-long bond is being broken by forces beyond their control — or anyone else’s, for that matter. Regardless of the consequences, love lives on, even if the lovers do not.

(In French with English subtitles) LOG ONTO — click on the “Flicks” section. Then go to “What’s Showing”