THE DARKEST HOUR
DIRECTED BY: Chris Gorak
WRITTEN BY: Jon Spaihts
STARRING: Emile Hirsch,Olivia Thirlby, Max Minghella, Rachael Taylor
RUNNING TIME: 89 mins
DISTRIBUTED BY: 20th Century Fox
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Sean and Ben are a pair of software developers trying to market a social media program that would make it easy for people to find friends, parties and events all over the world. Arriving in Moscow for a presentation, they find out that the meeting has already started and they are no longer needed. Ordered by Skyler to leave, they head for a nightclub called Zvezda, intending to drown their sorrows in drink. Meanwhile two American girls Natalie and Anne, who half-know Sean and Ben from their blog, are also in Moscow. The two guys meet the two girls in the club and all seems to be going well, despite the appearance of Skyler, until the lights go out. Swirling balls of yellow light fall out of the sky, multiply and fall all over the city, after which seemingly invisible aliens start to vaporise everyone in sight. Sean, Ben, Natalie, Anne and Skyler hide underground and when they venture outside, it looks like they are the only living humans around……….
It seems impossible to make a decent alien invasion movie of late. You might think that the absolutely terrifying idea of attack by creatures from space would be hard to totally screw up, but last year we had the piss-poor Battlefield: Los Angeles and the shoddy Skyline, and this year we are treated with The Darkest Hour, making the good days of The War Of The Worlds and, indeed, Independence Day [come on, it was fun!] seeming very far away indeed. I’m not sure entirely what involvement Timur Bekmambetov had with this, but it seems like it merely extended to putting his name on a credit or two, because you won’t recognise any of the quality of his directorial projects here. The Darkest Hour is partly one of those ‘so bad it’s good’ films, and partly just bad and irritating to watch. There are many moments that will probably make you laugh at their sheer stupidity, but sadly for a lot of the time you will be looking at your watch too.
The first twenty minutes or so are actually quite promising, and I seriously wondered if this was one of those movie which the critics got a bit wrong. Tyler Bates’s opening music is suitably ominous, and though the characters straight away are made from the thinnest cardboard, never mind! The aliens soon attack, and the sight of the strange yellow flare-like objects falling from the sky has a really magical feel about it, a feel helped when the camera goes into the air and we see the spectacle from higher up. There is also hardly any sound, giving proceedings an uncanny feel. When one of the lights lands outside the club and the invisible alien proceeds to vaporise people, one is reminded of Steven Spielberg’s Martian invaders, and there is the same sense of panic and urgency. Our protagonists shelter in an underground storeroom, and the passage of time is nicely illustrated by dissolves and given a slightly unusual feel by the camera observing everyone from a distance and their talking made very quiet.
Sadly, after this, the film becomes a bit rubbish. Our group goes outside, and then it’s endless sequences of them wondering about in deserted Moscow, presumably intended to evoke 28 Days Later [and I was reminded of The Day Of The Triffids and Dawn Of The Dead too], but resolutely failing to create much in the way of atmosphere or tension. Despite the Moscow setting, the film could have just about been set anywhere; there’s no feel for the locations, though it’s nice to see that Russian shopping centres have some of the same shops as those in England. The tedium is occasionally enlivened by the odd alien attack, but more footage is devoted to the characters having conversations with other survivors about the alien’s relationship to electricity. The attack scenes only provide mild excitement; the potential fear that should be derived from murderous aliens who cannot be seen is just not there. Characters constantly do stupid things, but the dumb fun one can often get from bad movies only really surfaces in the final quarter, when the action finally gets going again. Basic geography is ignored, a bus which two of the main characters are on starts moving for no apparent reason, other characters shoot at the aliens with normal guns after we have sat through tons of verbiage about special weapons that can kill them, and one person’s phone, after it has been broken, is mended with special additions that enable it to work in a submarine [!] and receives a text that will just make you either cringe or laugh out loud. So will when the aliens are actually revealed.
The aliens in this movie actually become tiresome very quickly – I mean how many times do we need to see people being vaporised and there’s far too much Predator-style ‘alien vision’ too. The 3D is passable, and for a change doesn’t come across as being too dark. The dialogue is awful though. “What are you going to do”? asks Sean during one perilous moment. “Something”, replies Ben with a straight face. I couldn’t work out whether some of this stuff was meant to be funny or not; I’m betting money on the latter. Considering that writer Jon Spaihts has recently co-written Prometheus, I’m very worried about that movie; on this film his script is roughly at the level of a ten year old. Director Chris Gorak does stage the few exciting scenes quite well, and thankfully doesn’t feel the need to bombard us with one second cuts, close ups and the camera waving around. As for the cast, they’re passable and one can forgive them for not seeming to make much of an effort since they are not given much to work with. You could possibly just see the first fifteen minutes of The Darkest Hour for a fairly exciting experience, and then the last fifteen minutes for an entertainingly stupid one. Unfortunately the rest is just mostly dull, so overall I would say: don’t bother.