If you require a reason to see The Darkest Hour, the best I can offer you is that it isn’t as bad as last year’s Skyline. But that doesn’t amount to much – it’s still pretty bad. It’s a silly, lightweight alien invasion thriller populated by stock characters that are all but overshadowed by special effects, which were obviously made with care. The dialogue is a reliable mishmash of panicked screams and cornball jokes that stay within the limits of the film’s PG-13 rating. It relies on explanations and turns of events that don’t even try to be plausible. And then there’s the fact that it has been shot and released in 3D, which is so sparsely utilized that it begs the question of why it needed to be released that way (and I mean apart from the fact that it’s currently a popular trend). Considering how much the process dims the picture, I guess the second word of the title is apt.
It begins with two young American software designers, Sean (Emile Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella), flying to Moscow with the intention of launching their own social network tool. Unfortunately, the person they were supposed to partner with, a Swede named Skyler (Joel Kinnaman), has already screwed them out of a deal, claiming the tool as his own. Later on, they try to figure out what to do at a local nightclub, where the music throbs and booze flows out of fountains. They use the prototype of their tool to locate and hook up with an American tourist named Natalie (Olivia Thirlby) and her Australian best friend, Anne (Rachael Taylor). Anne’s back story is nonexistent, but with Natalie, there are hints of an ex-boyfriend and the occasional text from her worried mother.
During the opening scenes, what do we learn? Not a whole lot as far as the characters are concerned. Ben is a worrisome yuppie type, Sean is an outgoing wiseass, and the women are pretty much as I have already described them. For the rest of the film, they’re required to be nothing more or less than panicked survivors. We learn even less about Russia, with the notable exception of three things: (1) Moscow is a very good place to go clubbing; (2) it’s customary for the businessmen there to screw you out of deals; (3) they greatly enjoy advertising McDonald’s. Funny that a film would show such little interest in the country it takes place in, given the fact that the producer is Timur Bekmambetov, the Kazak-born director known for his Russian films. I suspect that, were it not for him, The Darkest Hour would have taken place in Los Angeles or New York, which – in the movies, at least – have been reliable cities for alien invasions.
And what of that? Just as Anne takes a group photo of herself, Natalie, Sean, and Ben, the club is engulfed in darkness. Outside, everyone stares helplessly into the sky, for glowing puffs of light float down serenely. They soon disappear from the visible spectrum and begin attacking the people, who, when touched, disintegrate into nothing but ash. Our four leads, along with – surprise, surprise – the dishonest Swedish businessman, take shelter in the club’s basement. They emerge several days later, only to find a decimated Moscow. Over the course of the film, they learn that these invisible alien creatures, whatever they are, give themselves away when they pass electrical devices like light bulbs. We already know that they can see humans via their bioelectric energy; the characters don’t realize this until Sean hides behind a pane of glass, which, apparently, they can’t see through.
Isn’t it funny, how characters with absolutely no knowledge of an alien species can manage to figure out the reason for an invasion? The leads, Sean especially, make a lot of wild speculations using little more than what they’ve occasionally observed. Naturally, they all end up being right. I leave it to you to discover the reason the world is being overrun with electrically-charged aliens – which are, incidentally, impervious to bullets and bazookas despite being invisible. I will say that new survivors enter the story in the latter half of the film. One is a Russian girl who can’t be any older than sixteen. Another is an older Russian man who has, in the course of just a few days, invented a ray gun that emits microwaves. How he knows it will hurt the aliens is not something I presume to ask. And then there’s a ragtag band of Russian soldiers, who still have pride in their motherland. Amazing, how all these Russians just happen to speak fluent English.
There’s no conceivable way this premise can be taken seriously. This leads me to wonder why no one thought to go all out and make The Darkest Hour a camp fest. At least then, we would know that it was intended to be stupid. We might even forgive it for being released in 3D; if it were campy, the filmmakers would probably revel in those tried and true gimmicky techniques, none more infamous than having various objects fly directly at the camera. I’m sure it also would have been much more fun for the cast, as they wouldn’t be required to try too hard. There are few things as fun as a film that actively tries to be bad, like a midnight movie. As it is, The Darkest Hour is routine, preposterous, and forgettable, serving as little more than an excuse to spend just under ninety minutes out of the house.
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