DVD Review: The Darkest Hour / Cert: 12 / Director: Chris Gorak / Screenplay: Jon Spaihts / Starring: Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Max Minghella, Rachael Taylor / Release Date: May 21st
When it was released in cinemas, The Darkest Hour got a bad rap from critics and paying customers alike. With its impending release onto DVD and Blu-ray, it’s time to reassess and see if the film is actually that bad. To put it simply, no it’s not. The sophomore directorial effort by Gorak - who had previously given us the frankly chilling Right At Your Door - is by no means a great film, but for an attempted special effects laden mini-blockbuster it’s okay.
Perhaps we’ve been spoilt by all the American based disaster and end of the world films, with their tumbling skyscrapers and epic CGI destruction, but The Darkest Hour is more subtle. Shots of eerily abandoned Moscow streets offer a macabre sense of dread that cannot be hidden from. Also, the creators have introduced a different kind of villain, with no visible monsters or aliens hunting the leads down. Instead, an invisible foe hides in broad daylight, unable to be seen until it makes its presence known by setting off previously dead electrical appliances.
In a nice twist, the characters realise that they are better off travelling at night so that those appliances and light bulbs can give away their pursuers. The two male leads of Hirsch and Minghella are likeable enough, playing two internet entrepreneurs visiting Moscow to try and tie up a business deal that goes awry. Drowning their sorrows in a nightclub, they meet up with a couple of girls, played by Thirlby and Taylor, before the lights go out and the whole city is bathed in darkness. From the sky, orange balls of light fall to the ground and one evaporated cop later, they are on the run for their lives from an enemy that they can’t see.
Whilst trying to make their way to a Russian submarine that is sitting in the river, promising salvation, they meet up with other survivors and also find their numbers dwindling as they are picked off. Towers of light start streaking into the sky, sucking conductive metals with them and all appears to be lost. But there are pockets of resistance around the world who are finding ways to fight back and our band of unlikely heroes are no different.
You can pinpoint where the disappointment comes from quite easily. Where we are now used to superheroes and over the top set pieces in action films, what we have here is a group of normal people trying to survive an extraordinary event. With an invisible foe, there is nothing tangible to root against and the biggest issue is the film thinks it is more epic than it actually is. It is an independent production with some decent effects and a reported budget of $30 million. It is by no means a bad film and the initial reviews seem to have been overly harsh, but it looks like the idea was to create the opening part of a trilogy, but this isn’t quite strong enough to make people come back for more. The creators really were in a ‘damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t’ scenario here. They tried to do something different instead of the usual alien invasion plotline, but haven’t managed to quite pull it off.
Okay but not great – it’s still worth a viewing, if only for some nice cinematography of the Russian capital and some decent special effects considering the budget.
Extras: Deleted and extended scenes, digital copy