Review: The Darkest Hour (12A) / Directed by: Chris Gorak / Screenplay by: John Spaihts / Starring: Emile Hirsh, Max Mingella, Olivia Thirlby, Rachael Taylor, Joel Kinnaman / Released: Out now
What better way to blast those January (surprisingly mild-for-the-time-of-year) Winter blues away than with a trip to the multiplex to see the human race get hammered by space aliens again. And, to be fair, we’ve taken a battering quite a lot in the last few years, from ‘War of the Worlds’ to ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ via ‘Cloverfield’ and ‘Skyline.’ There’s an argument to be made that maybe we’ve had enough alien invasion movies for the time being but, as sucker for films like this, I’m quite happy to sit down and quietly revel in the sight of smug human beings having their cosy lives blown away from under them and their cities smashed to rubble. Maybe I should see someone about it…
‘The Darkest Hour’ is directed by Chris Gorak (who previously helmed the stifling and paranoid chemical attack thriller ’Right At Your Door’) and sees him teaming up with Russian special effects maestro Timur ('Night Watch') Bekmambetov. The results are visually striking and at times breath-taking, creating a movie which adds a few new ingredients to the alien invasion recipe but without ever really managing to make into a particularly heady new concoction. Gorak’s film shifts the focus of the alien incursion away from the usual Californian super cities to the beautiful and arresting streets of Moscow (without having the courage to actually tell its story from the perspective of Russian lead characters) and Gorak’s aliens have little in common with the tripods and war machines of recent movie vintage; this time Earth’s been hit by eerie invisible aliens who are represented as smeary orange wisps of smoke with a nasty habit of lashing out tentacles of light which turn human into dust on contact. Here’s where ‘The Darkest Hour’s claims for originality pretty much run out because once the story kicks in and the chaos has started, we’re back in the familiar territory of a group of survivors running for their lives, screaming, hiding and eventually (hardly surprisingly) being bumped off one by one.
Two young internet whizzkids have travelled on business from America to Moscow but when they discover their idea has already been stolen and they’re shown the door, they drown their sorrows in a Moscow bar where they hook up with a couple of foxy female tourists. Before too long the partaaaaying comes to a grinding halt when all the lights go out and the city is besieged by glowing orange lights which drop out of the sky and start turning the terrified population into ash. Our four young heroes - and a stray cocky Swede - hide in a cellar for a few days. When everything appears to have calmed down and they’ve run out of food, they venture out into a deserted, dusty Moscow - terrifically realised scenes of the ravaged, abandoned city - but find that the aliens are still out there, patrolling the conquered city and wiping out stray dogs. The group are desperate to make contact with other survivors and to find out if the invasion is worldwide and, in crossing the city, they make some alarming discoveries (via some rather eye-opening assumptions and leaps in logic) about the nature of the aliens and the purpose of their invasion.
That’s pretty much all ‘The Darkest Hour’ has to offer by way of plot and, in fairness, that’s pretty much all we expected or wanted. It’s all about the spectacle and ramping up the tension and whilst it manages the former pretty well there’s not really that much tension because it’s hard to care about any of our lead characters because they just don’t have any. All we know about the boys is that they’re budding internet entrepreneurs (who are initially a bit over-excited by the fact they seem to have discovered satnav) and all we know about the girls is that they’re girls. When bad things happen to them we just shrug and think “Oh, that was cool…” If it’s deep and insightful characterisation you’re after, you’re in the wrong genre. The dialogue rarely rises above the level of “What the Hell are those things?” or “We need to get out of here” and when we discover why the aliens are here it can’t help but be disappointing to find they’ve gone to all this effort for our mineral resources. Just for once I’d like to see aliens coming to Earth to plunder our wool or puppy supplies; at least it’d be something a bit different…
But it’s churlish to criticise ‘The Darkest Hour’ for what it isn’t because what it is is pretty good. At 89 minutes it’s tight, lean and punchy, it looks brilliant (there's a great scene of a downed aircraft which has ploughed into a shopping mall, for example), the idea of ‘wavelength’ aliens travelling about causing electrical excitation adds a bit of edge to the concept of invisible extra-terrestrials (although when we do briefly see the ‘real’ aliens towards the end of the film they look as if they’ve been lifted from some primitive early 1980s computer game). Taken in the spirit in which it was surely intended and viewed in the right frame of mind - ignore plot illogicalities and the slightly hysterical last twenty minutes or so - and you’ll have a good time at ‘The Darkest Hour’. Just try not to feel too guilty about enjoying something which is ultimately so eminently derivative and disposable.
Expected rating: 8 out of 10