That is a question that folks counting beans in Hollywood have asked since Charlie Chaplin was still performing on the stage in London. And the answer has usually been; who knows? But what about what makes a movie GOOD? That answer is not nearly as elusive.
You have to be entertained, the film has to be well-paced and written, the acting has to be decent and you have to, to some extent, care what happens to the characters. And horror films have some other criteria—one being that they have to be scary or, at least, creepy
Unfortunately the recent film, Dark Skies, has a plethora of movie killing traits; it starts slow, it relies on obvious attempts to scare that will draw yawns from horror veterans, the audience cannot possibly care what happens to the characters and, finally, the film is poorly paced.
Poor pacing can kill any movie and it is particularly deadly in a horror or suspense film. The run of the mill set up in Dark Skies (oooh! Something messes with the fridge! Saw that last year in The Possession) is meaningless and seems an afterthought. The characters inspire no emotion (despite the pretty solid acting). It just all seems formula. There are also lots of red herrings and side plots that are totally irrelevant to the plot moving forward. Nothing brings a horror film to a screeching halt faster than a visit from social services because of the abuse the ghost/demon/alien has visited upon a child character. What is worse than that? Bringing such a visit up and it never happening.
There is one scene where the family discusses their past over dinner in a house boarded up to keep the aliens out. Is it an homage or rip off of M. Night Shymalan? Who knows but it just makes the observant viewer recall what a good suspense director Shymalan once was and how hollow and weak Dark Skies is.
Sure the aliens look cheesy. So what? The demon possessed people in The Evil Dead look cheesy too but we all, justifiably, love that film. A low budget is no excuse for slapdash execution. The audience pays the same whether the movie cost 1 million or 300 million to make.
Audiences need to pay attention to who makes the movies. Usually Blumhouse Productions make good B horror but this film isn’t good. Everyone misses (can you say Paranormal Activity 4?) but recalling Insidious, the first three Paranormal films and Sinister it is easy to have hope for future Blumhouse films. The director of this film, Scott Stewart, also directed the silly but watchable Legion and the totally unwatchable Priest. He doesn’t have a huge directorial track record so even a look at him on IMDB shouldn’t scare you. But usually? It helps.
Watch who writes and directs. Save yourself nine bucks.