The Darkest Hour (3D)
The Darkest Hour is a film beset by mediocrity. A script that belies logic at multiple turns and expects it’s audience to accept characters making critical decisions with an appalling lack of evidence serves to undermine what was already a stretched cast. Screenwriter Jon Spaihts shows a worrying lack of imagination considering his involvement in Ridley Scott’s upcoming Alien threaded prequel Prometheus. The creature effects go some way to providing some spark to proceedings but when they decide to reveal more of the alien invaders in the final third it ruins the film’s main positive feature.
Events kick off with two twenty-somethings Sean and Ben (played by the distinctly average Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella) visiting Moscow intent on selling their online social networking site. Poised to make millions they boys arrive at the meeting to find that sneaky Swedish businessman Skyler (Joel Kinnaman) has stolen their idea and sold it himself. Distraught they decide to drown their sorrows in a hip local bar where they meet two American girls (Olivia Thirlby and Rachael Taylor) as well as running into Skyler again. After some fairly typical drinking and flirting scenes business picks up with the introduction of our visually stealthy predators.
The aliens spend most of the film in a largely invisible state, giving off just flickers of light be it from themselves or igniting the lights around them (cars, street lamps, shops etc) that allows for some nice set pieces involving menacingly lit urban battlefields. Eventually however we get to catch a glimpse of what’s hiding underneath and some dodgy CGI ruins the good work that had come before.
Our “heroes” spend a few days sitting in an underground store room after the initial attack, but after running out of food and getting tired of pissing in cans they decide that their are going to take their chances and head for the American Embassy. As they emerge we are treated to some empty dust filled shots of a silent Moscow, most of its 11.5 million population having been exterminated, their bodies turned to the white dust now covering the city. The group begin to make tracks for the embassy and on the way meet some more of the floating, near invisible assailants. Within two encounters main man Emile Hirsch manages to make some astounding scientific leaps in guessing how the creatures work and hunt, which given that to this point all we’ve really got form the character is that he’s a bit of a screw up who’s good at finding hip clubs seems a little hard to swallow. He doesn’t inspire all that much confidence as the group’s leader but to begin with that kind of works with some of the group doubting him as much as the audience will be.
They eventually reach the embassy to find it, surprise surprise, as dead as the rest of the city and so move on toward a building with a solitary flat lit up. Upon getting there the troupe meet a youngster scavenging parts for eccentric Russian electrician Sergei, who has turned his home into a Faraday cage like fortress and is building a kind of alien proton pack. For a moment the film looks like it’s going to pick up a little with Sergei a delightful and colourful Russian man who exudes a warmth from his fuzzy bearded face. Alas, no soon has he arrived that the film dispenses with him. He was around just long enough to help the main cast figure out where they needed to go next and tell them how his alien ray gun worked. How disappointing.
The action escalates as they try to find their way to a nuclear submarine bound for safety. They meet some Russian police and discover that the creatures can indeed be harmed and upon injuring one little blighter Hirsch bends down and picks up what can only be described as alien shrapnel and gives it a look that says he’s desperately trying to channel the line “If it bleeds we can kill it.” onto his face but mostly just looks confused and constipated.
Throughout the film they paint pretty wide brush strokes of the characters. Skyler is the one you’ve to want to die from the start, Anne (one of the American girls) is the girl who’s afraid of every decision, Ben’s the sidekick and Sean and Natalie are the survivors. This in and of itself isn’t a problem, many good films work with these kind pieces appropriately placed. Sadly in the case of The Darkest Hour it’s all so poorly written that you just don’t care. The actors are largely wooden and flat in personality and though our two leads try their best they are let down by a script lacking the spark of the alien invaders.
It’s probably not the worst blockbuster you’re going to see this year but there is an such an overarching feeling of missed opportunities, laziness and sloppiness. The film is set in Moscow and so is fairly unique in not being portrayed from an American centric viewpoint but they fail to capitalize on this opportunity in any meaningful fashion. You need more than just a few gloomy shots of an empty Red Square to create a tense, harrowed atmosphere. You can pretty much figure out what’s going to happen and the flat lifeless scripting means you don’t really care for the protagonists as they are killed off. Ropey physics and unusually astute youths jar; and our leads fail to carry the film beyond being a curiosity. The interesting alien premise and effects will interest for a shot period, but a lack of solid answers to some pretty big questions. We are given no strong motive for their genocidal ways other than hunches about mineral extraction which don’t really cut it as a compelling reason for utilitarian mass murder (When talking about the aliens mining we are given something along the lines of ‘It must be food, we’re just in the way’). It goes for a Hollywood ending where a text message is meant to be enough to make us feel like the world isn’t as lost as we thought. Billions may be dead, but at least you’ve got reception.