Monday, 14 May 2012

Film Review: The Darkest Hour

Certificate: 12A (sci-fi action violence and some language)
Directed By: Chris Gorak
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Rachael Taylor, Max Minghella, Joel Kinnaman
Budget: $30 million
Runtime: 89 minutes
Trailer: Watch

After a couple of young American computer wizkids (Hirsch, Minghella), two female tourists (Thirlby, Taylor) and some weasel Russian businessman (The Killing's Joel Kinnaman) survive the first stage of an invasion by invisible aliens, this unlikely group of twenty-somethings struggle through the streets of Moscow to evade the unseen menace.

To be sure, The Darkest Hour is an interesting premise, an unseen nemesis which turns people to dust as the group are alerted to their presence only when nearby electrical devices spring to life. This idea is enhanced by lingering shots of a depopulated Moscow as car alarms ring in the distance letting us know they're somewhere out there, lurking. Yet while creating this latent paranoia is done to reasonable effect, it is unfortunate that the rest of the film works only to undo this.

From the moment our young heros quickly develop some implausibly astute understanding of how their invisible assailants operate (they can't see through glass, wut?) we're well on our way to silliness. Soon we're introduced to concepts of special ray guns designed to exploit the aliens' weakness, coupled with our heros' sudden epiphanies in the understanding of physics and electrical engineering. Indeed their cretinous quest for survival sits uneasily with their equally precipitously precocious perceptions. One macguffin even required me to check a map of Russia to make sure I had really seen what I thought. Without giving away spoilers, turns out I did taw a putty tat. It would not be an understatement to say that The Darkest Hour perhaps asks a bit too much from its audience.

If leaps of faith regarding plot aren't enough it's not like the characters help either, insipid to the point where you don't really care which of them makes it out alive. Their functions never extend beyond the two American guys used to explain the 'science', the whiney girls to provide the love interest, and the Russian asshole because we have someone for whose death we can root for.

Admittedly there's some impressive shots of an empty Red Square akin to the eerie opening sequences of 28 Days Later, but for all its ambitious ideas this lacks compelling characters and narrative all the while beating its chest with sheer incredulity. And yet, it would be a lie to say I didn't enjoy The Darkest Hour. Yes, it requires a leap of faith, but it is also almost fascinating to watch given its impressive production values which are much bigger and better than the film itself.