"There are many different elements of The Darkest Hour to enjoy! Foremost and most obvious are the marvelous locations that the film was shot on. I personally liked the design of the various alien technologies; which were all consistently based on light or energy. I really liked how Emile Hirsch’s character Sean grew from a shallow-seeming underachiever at the outset of the film into a quick-thinking selfless leader. Possibly the preeminent aspect of The Darkest Hour is its brisk pacing and efficient plot. Every scene provides pieces of information on the aliens, their purpose and the progression of the invasion."
Science Fiction, Horror and Action
Starring - Emile Hirsch/Sean, Olivia Thirlby/Natalie, Max Minghella/Ben, Rachael Taylor/Anne, Joel Kinnaman/Skyler, Gosha Kutsenko/Matvei, Veronika Ozerova/Vika, Dato Bakhtadze/Sergei, Nikolay Efremov/Sasha, Pyotr Fyodorov/Anton Batkin, Georgiy Gromov/Boris, Artur Smolyaninov/Yuri and Anna Rudakova/Tess
Director - Chris Gorak
Writer - Jon Spaihts
Rated PG-13 - sci-fi action violence and some language.
1 hr, 29 min.
This film has been unfairly criticized for its unimaginative aliens and lack of characterization. The same could be said for any alien invasion movie ever made. The important thing about this gene of film is that the alien creatures look and act differently enough from the humans to pose a plausible threat; and that the characters are likable and relatable enough to want to see them survive the alien threat. The Darkest Hour succeeds in both respects.
Ben and Sean are two college friends, who decide to start a social networking business. Ben is the brains of the business and Sean is the face of the operation. They partner with a young Swedish businessman to enter the budding Russian free market. When Ben and Sean arrive to meet Skyler in Moscow, they find out that Skyler has already sold a knockoff version of their application software and due to the non-existent copyright laws in Russia, the friends can only drink away their woes at a local nightclub. They meet an American woman Natalie there and her Australian friend Anne, who are in Moscow to show Natalie’s art. The power abruptly goes out in the nightclub and everyone dashes out to see the sky filled with bright light, which quickly breaks off into hundreds of smaller spheres that plummet to the ground.
One of these light spheres alights near the crowd of young people outside the club and a police officer bravely confronts the alien object to intercede himself between the civilians and the possible threat. The police officer is immediately disintegrated against an invisible force barrier that surrounds the sphere, which sends the crowd running in a panic for the relative shelter of the club. More and more of the alien spheres hurtle ground ward and begin killing dozens of the frightened people. Sean finds a hole in the wall of the nightclub that leads to a basement storeroom and he leads Ben, Natalie and Anne there. Once behind the heavy steel door, they hear loud banging at the door and open it to reluctantly let Skyler in their shelter.
Hiding there for days, they finally leave to find that Moscow is completely devoid of people. Venturing further out into the city in search of a proper map, Ben and Sean become trapped by one of the alien spheres under a car. As it passes over the car, they notice that the sphere causes all the lights of the vehicle to alight and they quickly devise a warning system for the aliens out of incandescent light bulbs. They use the map from the car to find the American Embassy, where they had hoped to find help in finding a way back to America, but it is just as desolate and demolished as the rest of Moscow. They do find a logbook there near a wireless transmitter and discover that the alien invasion is a worldwide event. The group decides they need to find another way out of Moscow and they enter a high tower building to get a superior view of the city. Skyler is leery of being trapped in the building, so he stays on the ground floor while the others climb to the roof. They hear Skyler being attacked by one of the spheres, firing a rifle uselessly at the alien’s force shield. Skyler bravely leads the alien away from the rest of the group and they witness his death as they get away.
Sean, Ben, Natalie and Anne head towards a building with lights in the window, hoping to find someone alive. Once inside, they’re attacked by another alien sphere, but are helped by a Russian teenaged girl to escape into an apartment that has been transformed into a giant Faraday cage that hides them from the aliens. The girl introduces them to Mr. Sergei, who rescued Vika from the streets. Sergei explains to them that the aliens are generating an electrical field that not only makes them invisible, but also shields them from conventional weapons. Sergei then proudly demonstrates his microwave gun that destabilizes their shields enough to kill the aliens inside. They show Sergei a working radio they found at the embassy and play the frequency that repeats a message in Russian for him. Vika and Sergai interpret the message, which broadcasts that a nuclear submarine is waiting in the Moscow River to take refugees of the alien invasion to safety.
Sean, Ben, Natalie, along with the capable Vika escape Sergei’s building – which regrettably he and Anne do not – and are helped by a small but skilled Russian militia to find the Russian submarine promise of escape from the alien infested city of Moscow.
There are many different elements of The Darkest Hour to enjoy! Foremost and most obvious are the marvelous locations that the film was shot on. From the stunning exteriors of the Academy of Science Plaza to the impressive interiors of the Lenin Library, The Darkest Hour makes wonderful use of the city of Moscow to create a real feeling of alienation for the American and Australian protagonists in the film. The scenes of them wandering Red Square, which is shown to be completely devoid of any trace of humanity, are effectively eerie.
I personally liked the design of the various alien technologies; which were all consistently based on light or energy. The gigantic towering light funnels, that appear to be sucking the very life essence of Moscow itself, were disconcertingly efficacious. The opening sequence, where the massive vaporous light field in the night sky dissipates into hundreds of the energy spheres and begins at first to gently fall to the surface; only to quickly dive bomb the people on the ground and immediately disintegrate them, leaving only floating particles of dust was very imaginative and powerful. I thought that keeping the aliens themselves hidden behind the invisible energy shield for most of the film made them even more menacing than if they had been revealed early on in the movie. Because genre films and particularly science fiction films, portray alien technologies and biology with CGI so frequently now, I think our mind’s eye has become oversaturated with these images to the point that every films’ aliens begin to blend into one another. It is easy to criticize a lack of originality with the alien design work on The Darkest Hour, but honestly, when was the last film that truly impressed you with its innovative design work? Every film now is just a variation or modification of what we’ve seen in other science fiction films, so I think it’s just a cop out to disparage a film like The Darkest Hour for its lackluster special effects, when it is we as film aficionados that are being lazy in our critical analysis.
While I do think it might have been better if the central characters were more varied in age, ethnicity and vocation, I do think that the featured foursome were more than adequate at presenting the audience with relatable personalities and viewpoints. I really liked how Emile Hirsch’s character Sean grew from a shallow-seeming underachiever at the outset of the film into a quick-thinking selfless leader. I also appreciated that Olivia Thirlby’s character Natalie wasn’t just a bimbo to be rescued; nor was she throwing herself at Sean at every opportunity. In fact, at the beginning of the film she is more attracted to Ben because on the surface he seems to be the more stable and successful of the two male leads. Only after it becomes apparent to Natalie that Ben is actually very dependent on Sean for providing strength of leadership, that she – and we the audience – see Sean in a different light. My favorite characters in the film are some of the Russians; the foremost being Georgiy Gromov who played Boris the leader of the Russian militia. His obvious familiarity with American pop culture lent his character a real charm in relating to the Americans that he is put into a position to help. Boris demonstrates his appreciation for American films when after he and his small band of soldiers kill an alien he quips, “Welcome to Russia sucka!” I thought the young Russian actress Veronika Ozerova, who played the resourceful Russian refugee Vika, portrayed her character with just the right blend of quiet toughness and hidden terror that never once verged on overacting. Even with his relatively brief screen time, Dato Bakhtadze’s electrical engineer and amateur inventor Sergei was a fun and sympathetic character.
Possibly the preeminent aspect of The Darkest Hour is its brisk pacing and efficient plot. Every scene provides pieces of information on the aliens, their purpose and the progression of the invasion. These build on the each other, until the end of the film, which culminates with a satisfactory conclusion that still leaves open the possibility for a sequel. While, as a science fiction fan, I feel the film could have benefited from another character like Boris to better explain the alien technologies, I can’t quibble too much with the way this information was disseminated in bits and pieces throughout the film.
As you can no doubt tell by the length of this review, I truly enjoyed The Darkest Hour and recommend it to anyone who is looking for a pleasant bit of escapist alien-invasion science fiction!
TECHNICAL: Acting – 8 Directing – 8 Cinematography – 9 Script – 8 Special Effects – 9
VISCERAL: Visual – 9 Auditory – 8 Intellectual – 8 Emotional – 9 Involvement – 10
TOTAL RATING – 86