Title: The Darkest Hour
Directed By: Chris Gorak
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Max Minghella, Olivia Thirlby, Rachael Taylor, Joel Kinnaman, Veronika Ozerova
Tell us an alien invasion movie is on the way and, regardless of who’s in it or what it’s about, it sparks intrigue. Not only am I particularly guilty of this in general, but upon hearing the concept backing The Darkest Hour, I fell head over heels for what should have been a wildly original dose of ET destruction. However, perhaps test screenings didn’t go as planned, because as the film’s Christmas day release approached, its marketing campaign fizzled out, warning us of what’s to come. Is it all that bad? No, but it’s certainly not worth a promotional push especially with the high quality fare it’s going up against.
Longtime buddies Sean and Ben (Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella) head to Moscow for a business venture, the opportunity to develop their smartphone social networking application, The Globe Trot. It’s too bad their Swedish partner, Skyler (Joel Kinnaman), decides to steal their idea and present it as his own. Now abroad and with nothing to do, the boys turn to booze and drown their sorrows in a night out. That’s when they meet another traveling duo, Natalie and Anne (Olivia Thirlby and Rachael Taylor).
It’s all fun and games until the power goes out. When the partygoers head outside to investigate, they come face-to-face with the culprit, an invading alien race. The foursome and Skyler manage to barricade themselves in the club basement for the initial onslaught, but, even after emerging days later, the streets are still overrun with invaders, invisible balls of electricity with the power to turn their victims to dust.
This is an alien invasion movie we’re talking about; The Darkest Hour has had an edge the moment it was conceived. And, even beyond the mass appeal of this type of material, Jon Spaihts’ script offers a number of distinctly inventive details, giving The Darkest Hour the opportunity to reach far beyond sci-fi guilty pleasure status. It’s just too bad Spaihts, and perhaps his story development collaborators, M.T. Ahern and Leslie Bohem, just didn’t know what to do with the ideas, or dialogue at all for that matter.
The problems are obvious right from the start; Sean and Ben are on their way to Russia and their personalities are revealed through a painfully tacky conversation about whether or not cell phones really do interfere with the plane’s equipment and the duo basically breaks down their own characters in the conversation. It’s as far from subtle as possible and it’s that lack of restraint throughout the first act that somewhat ruins the “wow moment.” Think of some of your favorite alien invasion movies. What’s the best part? When the aliens first invade, of course! Well, thanks to far too much foreshadowing and little to no character development, the big arrival is rather lackluster, despite the invaders’ unusual and picturesque entrance.
That problem comes and goes, but we’re stuck with the characters. Their biggest problem is that there’s just nothing that special about them. Sean is the unprepared and impulsive one while Ben is the brains behind their operation. They could have made for a dynamic combination had Spaihts not forgotten their classifications. Minus the first boardroom scene, we never really see the guys shine as individuals using their character traits. The same goes for Anne and Skyler who never get past the level of them simply being girls and best friends. For the large majority of the movie, they follow Ben and Sean with their fingers crossed. The only one who manages to stand out from the pack is Kinnaman as Skyler and the reason is simple – he’s the only one with a personality. Beyond him, Spaihts might as well have scrapped their names and merely labeled them guy one and two and girl one and two. (Come to think of it, their names don’t even become familiar until well past the film’s midpoint.)
The script in general also suffers from a lack of definition. Rather than piece together the story with epic mini moments, everything just blends together. They don’t get a real mission until about half way through the film and, even then, they’re merely running around the city. If they actually achieve something, it’s by sheer luck. Further tarnishing the piece’s flow and pace is the fact that either Spaihts has no idea how to write a transition or the film’s trio of editors are only capable of moving the story from one scene to the next via fade ins and outs. On the other hand, on the technical side, The Darkest Hour offers pretty wicked looking aliens (until we get a closer look at them) armed with a vicious shredding capability. Forget the main characters and their story; I could have watched those aliens rip people up for the full 90 minutes.
Clearly The Darkest Hour isn’t a good alien invasion movie, but, again, it’s an alien invasion movie and, quite similar to Battle: Los Angeles, regardless of subpar filmmaking, there’s something inherent in the genre that leaves you with the need to at least see the story through. Sure, the story is painfully choppy and the characters are terribly one dimensional, but it’s not about them; it’s about seeing what new crazy way we’ve come up with to destroy our world.