– Summary –
Director : Chris Gorak
Year Of Release : 2011
Principal Cast : Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Max Minghella, Rachel Taylor, Joel Kinnaman, Gosha Kutsenko, Veronika Vernadskya.
Approx Running Time : 89 Minutes
Synopsis: When aliens invade Earth, a group of young folk trapped in a basement in a Moscow nightclub resurface to make a break for help.
What we think : Uninspiring sci-fi epic bears more than a passing resemblance to equally flawed flop, Skyline: although this time, it’s Moscow in the firing line instead of Los Angeles. The film meanders from character to character with no real definition, the action feels hodge-podge and the effects range from terrific to terrible. Ultimately, a waste of good ideas thanks largely to clunky editing and direction.
You know the story: aliens arrive with hostile intent, and among the survivors of the ID4-style apocalypse are a group of rather attractive, but not too bright, young people for whom absolute trust in authority figures leads to some pretty inane decisions being made. Cue random meat-grinder death scenes, some spectacular (if uninspired) alien visual effects, and the typically gung-ho “we have to stand and fight” routine that’s become passe nowadays, and you have all the ingredients to made a stock-standard, by-the-numbers science fiction film; The Darkest Hour is the product of those ingredients. Does the film manage to eke out at least a compelling storyline, characters or emotional arc on which the audience can find some entertainment value? Or does it crumble when compared to other, better films of this genre, a genre rapidly declining in ingenuity and creativity and seemingly caught in the “end of the world” mantra so prevalent these days? The Darkest Hour certainly looks the goods, but how does it stack up?
Two American entrepreneurs, Ben (Max Minghella) and Sean (Emile Hirsch) travel to Moscow to unveil their new social networking software, only to discover their business partner, Skyler (Joel Kinnaman) has betrayed them. Taking refuge in a nearby nightclub, Ben and Sean meet Natalie (Olivia Thirlby), an American traveling with her Australian friend Anne (Rachel Taylor). Before things can progress, the power goes out, and when everyone moves outside, they discover that Earth has been invaded by invisible, electricity-powered aliens who slaughter everyone in sight. Taking refuge in the nightclub’s basement, the group resurface several days later to discover that nearly the entire population of Moscow has been killed, leaving them alone and almost defenseless, to locate any other survivors and try and escape the city.
I’m a fan of good sci-fi as much as the next guy, so I was excited to see the original trailers for The Darkest Hour surface and actually seem like it was pretty decent. The plot sounded relatively simple (group of survivors making their way through post-invasion metropolitan area) and the visual effects looks nicely executed, so expectations were high that a Moscow-set sci-fi alien invasion film might offer something new to a rapidly declining sub-genre. What the film delivered, however, never quite matched the expectations the marketing campaign gave us. The Darkest Hour is a characterless, emotionless, passionless affair from director Chris Gorak and the predominantly Russian production, a film that feels like a Frankenstein’s Monster of a thing, created from the bits and parts of other, better films.
The screenplay, which was written by Prometheus co-writer Jon Spaihts, is derivative and peace-meal, characters thinly developed and dialogue that borders on the inane. Not once did I find any of these people believable; of note, Rachel Taylor’s Anne, who almost seems like just an additional body for the aliens to kill off, except that Taylor’s a better actor than what she gets served up here, which is shameful. Hirsch and Minghella, as the two US computer nerds, do commendable jobs providing the square-jawed leading men personas, even if they come across as hokey as their behavior throughout the film. The script tries to get some underlying tension throughout, with a bit of friction between Anne and Natalie’s trust of Ben and Sean, while Skyler’s constant “no, let’s go this way” routine becomes tiresome. Thankfully, he meets his end relatively quickly. You get the sense that there’s a lot of back-story in the film, a lot of history between the characters that the wafer-thin scripting can’t deliver on, and it soon becomes apparent that Gorak doesn’t even really try to develop these people into characters we like. He gives the occasional nod to Anne and Natalie’s friendship, and offers some tacit back-home angst with Natalie’s rebellious nature shown through texts between her and her mother, but it’s poorly realized and generic storytelling, and it never goes anywhere.
The acting in this film ranges from appropriate to mediocre. Hirsch is the better actor of the key four leads, while Minghella provides solid backup, but Olivia Thrilby and Rachel Taylor look like they’re acting in a school play, they’re so awkward. Taylor especially, whose natural cadences are lost amongst the screaming, running and dying. Thirlby is a decent actor herself (appeared in Juno and more recently in the remake of Dredd) but the role is thankless, and her emotional range is as ill-defined as the rest of the movie. Joel Kinnaman seems to know he’s playing the asshole in this film, and does a great job at it, but equally it’s as thankless any any of the other roles. Bit parts to Dato Bakhtadze as Sergei, a Russian inventor/electrician who devises a weapon against the alien creatures, and Veronika Vernadskaya as Wika, a young girl who accompanies the group towards their salvation at the end of the film, are fun to watch, but add nothing but eye-rolling plot devices to the story. And don’t forget the bunch of Russian commandos living in the subway who have armed themselves for battle; they’re nondescript, generic and of course, completely designed to be canon-fodder for the inevitable showdown between human and alien.
The Darkest Hour is certainly visually stylish – the deserted streets of Moscow are eerily reminiscent of recent genre pics like I Am Legend and 28 Days Later – although this film is nowhere near the quality of those, I will say that Russian urban life has never looked as inviting as it does in this movie. The city becomes a character of the film itself, with shadow and darkness providing shelter to our characters to escape the electric aliens, and the production makes the most of it. Some of the alien effects leave a lot to be desired, though, looking more like characters out of a 16 bit version of Doom than a modern HD feature film. The “alien towers”, however, reminded me so much of Skyline’s similarly visualized effects it annoyed me.
The Darkest Hour promises a lot, and delivers little. The action sequences are well filmed, but lack an internal logic – one character manages to become separated from the main group after a boat capsizes, and the next thing she’s five miles away in some deserted bus depot? That’s just stupid! – giving the film the kind of cut-rate production value you’d pay to avoid. The characters just drop off the screen, giving us nothing to appreciate about them whatsoever, and the story just meanders, never hitting a decent stride and feeling more episodic than it should have been. The Darkest Hour isn’t the worst film you’ve ever seen – hell, it’s nowhere near the level of Skyline, which was absolute wank – but it’s not really that great either. For some neato visual effects (and some crappy ones too) and the joy of seeing a different city being reduced to a wasteland other than a major American one, you could stick The Darkest Hour in your DVD player. Otherwise, skip it.
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