“The Darkest Hour” is the second directorial effort from Chris Gorak, and was produced by Timur Bekmambetov, though if you only saw the ads, you might have mistakenly believed that Bekmambetov, the director of “Wanted” and the upcoming “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” was the man behind the camera. (Which, I suppose, was the point of said ads.) The film opened late last year and disappeared from theaters just as quickly. There were plenty of ads, sure, but no press screenings, which is always a bad sign when studios try to sneak movies into opening nights without screening it for review from the “pros”. Some movies are critic-proof; alas, “The Darkest Hour” is definitely not one of those movies.
Set and shot entirely in Moscow, the Russian-produced “The Darkest Hour” centers around a small band of American 20-somethings who find themselves stuck smack dab in the middle of an alien invasion. And it happens pretty damn fast, too. The first time we see childhood chums Sean (Emile Hirsch, of “Speed Racer” infamy) and Ben (Max Minghella), they’re flying to Moscow for a business trip to introduce investors to their new fancy app. Turns out, their business partner Skylar (no, really, that’s his name), played by Joel Kinnaman (of “The Killing” fame) has already taken over their product and pitching it as his own. Though pissed off, this doesn’t prevent the boys from taking in the Moscow night life, where they meet fellow American vacationing pals Natalie (Olivia Thirlby, soon to be seen fighting crime next to Judge Dredd in “Dredd”) and Annie (Rachael Taylor, of “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” fame).
Before you can say, “Dang, there’s something strangely sexy about Olivia Thirlby”, aliens start landing in Moscow (and, turns out, all around the world). But these aren’t your E.T. variety aliens. Nope, these suckers float their way from the sky, making quite the wondrous sight. But once one of them zaps a local cop and literally turns him into ashes with a touch, it’s pretty clear they’re not here in peace. Our 20-somethings flee, ending up in a bunker underneath the nightclub along with Sean and Ben’s business enemy, Skylar. What a coincidink! While we wait for Skylar to get his at the end of an alien vaporizing, we must first watch our scrappy heroes as they emerge from the bunker, only to discover a deserted Moscow, most of the city’s occupants having been incinerated. This, conveniently, allows the film to show off that “empty city” wide camera shot so popular with post-apocaplyptic movies without none of that bothersome carcass/skull/dead bodies business.
“The Darkest Hour” is a short film, running somewhere around 80 minutes, and none of it is spent being very smart or clever or, well, good. Things sort of just work out for the characters despite not a single one of them being entirely smart, tough, or even all that resourceful. They meet an eccentric genius who has invented a groovy microwave gun to fight back against the aliens, pick up a plucky Russian girl name Vika (Veronika Ozerova) with scavenging skills, and even get saved by some gung-ho Russian soldiers. By now, though, Skylar has already gotten incinerated, but you probably already expected that, right? Written by Jon Spaihts, from a story by Leslie Bohem and M.T. Ahern, “The Darkest Hour” isn’t exactly smart stuff. Which makes the fact that Spaihts is suddenly the go-to guy for big-budget Hollywood sci-fi movies somewhat disheartening. Besides sole credit on “The Darkest Hour”, Spaights also wrote Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus”, and has just been tapped to reboot “The Mummy” for Universal. I really hope the (lack of) quality in “The Darkest Hour” isn’t a harbinger of what “Prometheus” has in store for us…
There seems to be no real focus to the film, with characters just running from spot to spot once the initial alien invasion has ended and most of the world’s population are dead. (No lie: the heroes spend the entire invasion in the nightclub bunker, shown to us in epic montage that barely takes up a minute of movie time. Now that’s efficiency!) I did like Emile Hirsch as the pseudo leader of our merry band of survivors, though, even if I couldn’t quite decide if Rachael Taylor was speaking in her Aussie accent, or if Kinnaman was doing a “Russian accent” until the film decided at some point that he was actually American. Honestly, the clarity with which Chris Gorak presents these characters, it’s amazing I could even keep their names straight. I was always sure who Natalie and Sean were, though, but that’s only because people kept screaming their names over and over in the movie.
There’s a reason “The Darkest Hour” wasn’t screened for critics, and there’s a reason it opened and disappeared before you even realized it was in theaters in the first place. It’s simply not a very good movie, sci-fi or otherwise, and I honestly wouldn’t recommend you invest even the 80 minutes required to watch the film. You’re not going to be getting anything even remotely close to your money’s worth here, folks. Though if I absolutely had to find a silver lining, I suppose the film’s final 10 minutes or so, when Sean has to rescue one of the survivors who somehow ended up separated from the group, is pretty entertaining in a jaw-on-the-floor, “I can’t believe it actually got dumber” sort of way.
“The Darkest Hour” arrives on DVD/Blu-ray April 10th, 2012 courtesy of Summit Entertainment.
Chris Gorak (director) / Jon Spaihts (screenplay), Leslie Bohem, M.T. Ahern (story)
CAST: Emile Hirsch … Sean
Olivia Thirlby … Natalie
Max Minghella … Ben
Rachael Taylor … Anne
Joel Kinnaman … Skyler
Veronika Ozerova … Vika
Dato Bakhtadze … Sergei