Sean (Emile Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella) fly to Russia, hoping to stir interest, and secure financial backing, in their Internet business. (Their site tells you where all of the cool spots can be found in any given city.) But when they arrive at their meeting, they find themselves being escorted out by security. Skyler (Joel Kinnaman), a Swedish “rival”, has beaten them to the punch. That evening, the two 20-somethings head to a Moscow nightclub to drown their sorrows. There, they connect with Natalie (Olivia Thirlby), an American, and her Australian friend Anne (Rachael Taylor). Not long into the evening, the city experiences a power cut. Everyone rushes outside only to witness hundreds of orange, glowing “orbs” drifting from the sky. A police officer cautiously approaches one and touches it with his nightstick. He is incinerated. Everyone screams and scatters. Sean, Ben, Natalie, Anne and Skyler find their way into the nightclub’s pantry, and for five days they survive on canned food. When the staples are gone, they venture outside and find a deserted city; a wasteland. What are these “energy” beings? Why are they on Earth? How does one evade them? Kill them? And can anyone survive this invasion?
From a story by Leslie Bohem, M.T. Ahern, and Jon Spaihts, who also wrote the screenplay, The Darkest Hour is a pretty mediocre action/horror/sci-fi film. None of the protagonists are particularly beguiling or, really, even interesting. After listening to their banal “getting to know you” chatter for a while, I felt like screaming, “OK, that’s enough. Start killing them.” I didn’t really care if any of these people survived. Well, that’s not 100 percent true. Kinnaman is a particular favorite of mine, so my fingers were crossed for him. But we all know that in poorly written films, any character with even a modicum of quirkiness or personality never makes it out alive. And this one is no exception. (SPOILERS) *********** For instance, half way through the 89-minute film, we are introduced to Sergei (Dato Bakhtadze), a middle-aged, rotund, Russian plumber/electrician who lives in an apartment that’s essentially a giant metal cage and who has a ginger-colored cat that he has wrapped in, what looks like, Christmas lights. He’s totally batshit crazy, and delightful as hell. He holds the key to destroying the enemy, and what happens to him? Yeah, don’t bother keeping this guy around. He’s smart and actually knows how to work the microwave-emitting ray gun that he’s created. But instead of having him tag along, the writers give the weapon to the diminutive Hirsch, who I believe is supposed to the 21st century’s answer to Corey Haim. Bah. Kill them. Kill them all! (SPOILERS ENDED).
The best characters in the film are the Russian ones. About halfway through the film, the dumb Americans encounter a wide-eyed, blonde survivor Vika (Veronika Ozerova). While she is able to face her fears and go out and gather supplies, Natalie and Anne huddle together in a corner, clutching each other like babies. More Vika; less Natalie and Anne, please. Also great are the Russian ass-kickers who save the lives of the protagonists near the end of the film. They come out of what looks like a library, dressed in military fatigues covered with metal pieces – the leader (Yuriy Kutsenko) is on an armored horse – and they are carrying everything from automatic weapons to a rocket launcher. Why these guys weren’t made the main characters is beyond me. They are probably the only reason I didn’t absolutely loathe The Darkest Hour, a film that borrows liberally from Cloverfield.
Now for the pros and the cons. On the plus side, The Darkest Hour is unique in that doesn’t take place in New York or Los Angeles. This one is set in, and was filmed in, Moscow (and Berlin), so we get to see Starbucks and McDonald’s signs in Cyrillic, and buildings capped with gold domes. Despite the fact that its plot and stock characters can be found in about one million other sci-fi films, at least The Darkest Hour has a different look to it. Also, its aliens aren’t like any other aliens I’ve seen on film. Most of the time, they are “invisible,” that is until they get hit with that microwave gun or are lit up by rounds of ammo. When they do materialize, they look like a black skull encircled by a black spinal column. Whatever they are, they sure do explode nicely in a shower of black “parts.” While watching some of these sequences, I couldn’t help but think that this concept would have made a much better first-person shooter game than a movie.
Now for the minus side … boy, where do I begin? The story was tedious, the dialogue yawn-inducing, and the character development non-existent. You don’t know much about any of these “chess pieces,” so you certainly don’t care about them. The female protagonists are written as typical dumb bitches, none of whom are dressed appropriately for an end-of-world scenario. Note to every woman in the real world, leave your high heel shoes and your sheer, sparkly, sleeveless tops at home. I don’t care if you are going to a club. If you dress like this and insist on getting drunk, you are either going to be raped, kidnapped and tortured – you’ve seen Hostel – or be ill-prepared for an alien invasion. Wear comfortable shoes, bring a jacket, and wear trousers. These articles of clothing will allow you to run from your foes, leap over any dead bodies in your path, and scale whatever building/tree/wall that stands in your way to freedom. To the writers, if you are going to write female characters, stop making them simpering idiots. And enough with the sexual attraction. These people could be incinerated at any time. That does nothing for the sex drive. Stepping off the soapbox.
I’m not sure what I thought I would see when I bought my ticket for The Darkest Hour. At best, I thought it might be a good thrill ride – as Cloverfield was – and maybe contain some cool special effects. Unfortunately, because it was so predictable and because you don’t care about anyone in the film, The Darkest Hour doesn’t offer you any thrills. I don’t remember one instance of my being on the edge of my seat. I was, however, pissed when a few of the minor characters died. The special effects are OK, but if you’ve seen the trailers, you don’t need to pay to see anymore of them. And this is surprising, because the director, Chris Gorak, has been an art director on Minority Report and Fight Club, and one of the producers is Timur Bekmambetov of Night Watch and Wanted fame. With a film this lackluster, it makes me a bit nervous to think that Bekmambetov’s next effort is directing Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) – please, don’t suck; please, don’t suck – and Spaihts has co-written the screenplay for Ridley Scott’s much anticipated Prometheus (2012). I just hope that he won’t have Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron running around in space, wearing high heels and sheer blouses and collapsing into each other’s arms when the aliens appear. That would warrant many, many slappings.
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