The Darkest Hour is another depressing example of a talented young director who appears to have been put through the studio mangle and been artistically compromised as a result. Chris Gorak’s first film, Right at Your Door, was an audacious and impressively-concieved doomsday scenario, yet the one presented here – not written by Gorak this time – suffers a laughable dearth of invention, and to be fair to Gorak, even a veteran director would struggle to muster up much intrigue.
In the lead roles, Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella play a pair of arrogant, enterprising douchebags who travel to Moscow for a business meeting, only to have their idea unceremoniously stolen by a Russian businessman. Quite strange it is how the film, produced by Kazakh director Timur Bekmambetov, keenly enforces any and all stereotypes about the country, that it is a corrupt, amoral wasteland in which the word of law means little. Putting this oddity aside, Moscow is at least a fresh setting for a film of this type, and the lame concept at least provides us with plenty of spacious shots of some of the city’s lovely architecture.
Even after the lame, jokey banter ceases and the aliens show up, it’s not much more likeable as a work of the genre, not only because the admittedly hokey premise – of invisible aliens who are detectable only as they pass by items which can conduct electricity - is a nightmare for any director to wring tension out of, but because Gorak is evidently out of his depth when saddled with the comparably larger scale and budget of his begulingly daring second feature.
It means we have countless dull scenes of our heroes fleeing from a villain with quite literally no screen presence, while even its electrical signatures – light bulbs flashing on, police cars bellowing – aren’t the least bit creepy or suspenseful. It is as though they got half way through making the film and had the budget catastrophically slashed, having to change the concept from one of hulking, imposing, monstrous aliens, to invisible ones. It’s a terrible idea for a film and one executed equally terribly. It’s also intercut with derivative use of what is essentially Predator-o-vision, demonstrating how the aliens view our world.
There’s the feeling here that writer Jon Spaihts – who depressingly also wrote the much-anticipated, upcoming Alien prequel Prometheus- doesn’t even have confidence in the concept – justifiably so – as he spoonfeeds the characters with laboured exposition, which takes up far too much of the lean 89-minute runtime. Hirsch’s dropout character surmises that the aliens can sense our “bio-electric shit” or whatever, while the rest is gathered from reading survivor reports and listening to radios; it’s not gritty, bleak, or existential because it crucially lacks atmosphere. Rather, it’s adventure by proxy.
Things get funnier in the second half as a ragtag team assembles, complete with a gruff old Russian who has fashioned a microwave gun that can hurt the aliens. Meanwhile, the supporting mugs are perfunctorily picked off one at a time, repetitively being dragged away and exploded into dust. The remaining characters grimace their hardest, but the audience is never really asked to care.
Even when we finally get a look at the aliens, they curiously resemble, as do several visual effects in this film, stock filters you’ve probably used in Adobe Photoshop, likely accounting for the relatively low $30m budget for a film of this type. The 3D, while lacking the post-converted stink you might expect, is nevertheless rendered rather pointless given the film’s abundance of scenes set in darkness. Plus, when the assailants are largely obscured from view, what is the point in propelling the action into another dimension?
Hirsch, Minghella and Olivia Thirlby (who plays the arbitrary, vague love interest character) are all fine young actors and clearly in it for the money, flailing embarassingly amid risible dialogue and a central premise that is both dreadfully misguided and shoddily executed. Sci-fi tends to be a genre that, even when it doesn’t quite hit the mark, is at least vaguely intriguing, but The Darkest Hour is that rare entry that is a failure in almost all aspects.
The Darkest Hour is in cinemas now.