Okay, let's jump right into the pedigree, as this is the first film I've reviewed in a while that wasn't a remake of something much better. What we have here is an alien invasion/end of the world story, written by Jon Spaihts. The Darkest Hour is his first produced feature length screenplay, but definitely not his last, seeing as how he and Damon Lindelof co-wrote the sure-to-be-a-megahit Prometheus. While that is a much higher-profile gig, I can only assume that there was something about his script here that helped him get the job. His next gig is scripting Universal's reboot of The Mummy.
I'm honestly not sure quite what might have done it, as if what made it to the screen is any indication, this is a bog-standard script that basically does nothing special. Our characters are introduced quickly and efficiently, I suppose, and the alien conception is pretty cool. But outside of that, and knowing what a Faraday Cage is, nothing about this film jumps out at you as something you must see.
Director Chris Gorak hasn't done a lot of directing (before this is was just the nuclear terrorism thriller Right at Your Door, which he also wrote), but he was the art director for beautifully realized films like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), Fight Club (1999), and Minority Report (2002), so that's a comfort. And The Darkest Hour does have moments of looking amazing. He doesn't have to try too terribly hard, since the film was filmed in Moscow and had a relatively decent budget of $30 million US. While it didn't make that back in the US, its combined worldwide gross was over $65 million. Not bad, but not something that will likely ensure any follow-ups.
A large part of that budget and the choice of setting came from producer Timur Bekmambetov, who you probably know from the Russian films Night Watch and Day Watch, but most likely for his horrible comic adaptation Wanted. He's also directing Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and that simply looks amazing. Here, he's the money man and if it wasn't for his involvement, I doubt that this film would have ever been green lit.
Oh, and apparently this was shot in 3D, also. I did not watch it in 3D.
Anyway, the story goes a little something like this:
Ben (Max Minghella – Social Network, Ides of March) and Sean (Emile Hirsch – Lords of Dogtown, Milk) are on their way to Russia to pitch to investors for their "Find Hot Places to Party Worldwide" phone app, only to discover that their partner Skyler (Joel Kinnaman – The Killing remake, Robocop reboot) is a douchebag who stole their idea and sold it before they got there. Luckily for them, there are no more hot spots after that night, because invisible aliens invade, draining all of the world's power supply and disintegrating everyone they can grab.
Our heroes, along with the two hot girls they stumble across thanks to their app, Natalie (Olivia Thirlby – The Wackness, Bored to Death) and Anne (Rachael Taylor – Grey's Anatomy, Charlie's Angels reboot), stumble around a deserted and people-dust-covered Moscow, barely escaping being Shredded by aliens before meeting up with Sergei (Dato Bakhtadze), an eccentric Russian electrician who develops a microwave gun, and Vika (Veronika Ozerova), a teen girl with no story whatsoever.
After that meeting goes tits up and Sergei and Anne both die horribly, the surviving kids meet up with Russian Freedom Fighters draped in chains and wire. Apparently these are supposed to be some sort of portable Faraday Cages, as that can shield one from the aliens, but there's no real explanation and they don't seem to do anything but look "cool."
Yes, those scare quotes are there for a reason. Whoever thought they looked "cool" had no idea what they were doing.
Anyway, then our heroes go get on a nuclear submarine ("A nuclear-powered Faraday Cage underwater! Genius!" shouts Sergei) after losing Ben, because who wants to follow the story of the smart guy when there's a sexy wise-ass who can play our lead?
That's really being generous, though. None of the characters have enough personality and none of the actors bring enough charisma to the roles to make anything about them memorable. We don't care when some die, and we don't care when some live. Hell, I didn't care that aliens had destroyed most of the planet in a barely explained attempt to harvest our minerals.
This was an almost complete failure on every level.
But the way the aliens killed people was cool. And if the extras are any indication, the Shredding was what sold the script and got them their funding. The characters and actual plot were treated like afterthoughts – or if there was something there in the original script, it was jettisoned to make room for … something. I'm not sure what.
Because there's just not much of anything here.
I'm just glad I had time to write this review today, because if I'd waited a day or two, I might not remember anything that happened. Sure the Blu-ray looks good, and the sound is excellent, but really. What's the point? This is nothing to waste your money on. I wouldn't even recommend renting this. There's just nothing there.
As far as the extras go, there's also not a lot to see. The Deleted and Extra Scenes (4:48) bring nothing to the party – even with the director's commentary – and while The Darkest Hour: Visualizing an Invasion (12:09) is interesting, mainly to see how they developed and designed the alien effects, it's not essential viewing. The Audio Commentary by director Gorak is probably more informative and useful to anyone wanting to take something – anything – away from this experience. It's a nice learning tool.
Along with these is a short film based in the post-invasion world of The Darkest Hour, called The Darkest Hour: Survivors, and it actually provides a more interesting premise and cast than the main feature. Someone really dropped the ball here. In a little over eight minutes, there's more interest developed in the whole invasion angle and more explanation about just what the hell is going on than in the entire feature. We follow freedom fighters in Tokyo, Malibu, and Afghanistan as they figure out a way to strike back at the alien invaders.
I can't find any substantial information about who made this fucking thing, though. The closest I can come is a website for HMH Casting that credits the short to director Adam Egypt Mortimer. However his personal promotional website has no mention of the project.
Also, if you go to the official website, here, there's an interesting, but short, web comic with art by Ben Temples
mith and some uncredited pin-ups that also makes this concept much more interesting than the film did. This is an absolute failure in marketing. Apparently there is a promotional comic available on Comixology with the Templesmith story, along with work by Pia Guerra, Becky Cloonan, and many others. I never heard of it before doing an internet search for the web comic that I just stumbled across by accident, though.
So apparently there's a lot more going on here than is readily available to the viewing public. You would think that a Blu-ray "Special Edition" would include some of this stuff to help make their piss-poor film resonate at least a little with its intended audience. Hell, I'd recommend buying this sucker if there was some more attention to the short film and the comic were included. How hard could that have been?
The Darkest Hour is released on DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray 3D, April 10, 2012.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot, Streaming Pile O' Wha?, and Classic Film/New Blu, all here at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.