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The Darkest Hour (review)

Joel Kinnaman Rachael Taylor Olivia Thirlby The Darkest Hour

Simple Yet Stupid

Cheap can be a good thing. Cheap can force visual storytellers to be more creative. Here we have nearly invisible alien invaders dropping down in globs of light over Moscow. Invisible invaders! Sometimes they shoot lightning! Imagine all the FX budget The Darkest Hour didn’t have to play with! Surely, then, we’re in for an inspired, imaginative story and engaging, fascinating characters — you know, to make up for the cheapness. Kinda like director Chris Gorak has already done, with his gripping near-SF thriller Right at Your Door (budget: about $1.98) which takes place almost entirely within the confines of an ordinary modest Los Angeles home and the surrounding streets… with no FX to speak of.
Nope. What we have here is a simple yet stupid riff on the disaster monster movie. Its idea of using the Moscow urban landscape is most memorably limited to gawping at famous logos — look, there’s Starbucks! hey, it’s McDonald’s! — in Cyrillic. Its idea of wit is frat boy one-liners. Its idea of drama is an exchange of “I can’t take this!” / “Yes you can!” Its idea of compelling protagonists to root for are two American idiots abroad on Web business (Emile Hirsch [Taking Woodstock, Milk] and Max Minghella [The Ides of March, The Social Network]) and a couple of tourists (Olivia Thirlby [Juno, United 93] and Rachael Taylor [Bottle Shock, Transformers]) so ill-defined that “party girl” is more evocative than what’s actually onscreen.

You’re caught in a strange city during a global disaster: not a bad jumping-off point. But beyond some running around with a tourist map to try to find the U.S. embassy, exploring this potentially intriguing notion never becomes a concern — we could be in any city on the planet. You’d think the movie would take its own hint: even the putative “villain” — the guy who stole Hirsch and Minghella’s Web site idea (hey, it’s Joel Kinnaman from the American The Killing; too bad for him that he’s stuck in this shit) — thinks it’s a stupid idea to head to the embassy when everybody in the city appears to have been killed by the invisible aliens. (How did our gang survive? They hid out in what must be one of the most tedious “we’re stuck in a basement” disaster survival scenarios ever committed to film.)

There’s a convenient lack of corpses all around Moscow, because the invisible light burns everyone up; there’s just some corpse dust around. (So: no need to pay extras to lie perfectly still in the street, or FX teams to dummy up bodies.) There’s also a convenient lack of much of anything original: what seems like a mildly novel idea (they want our energy! they must have seen The Matrix and discovered that human beings can be Duracells!) even if it’s a stupid one (why not take the sun?) turns out to be depressingly cliché. Oh, they’re after our minerals, are they? Hint to writers of future sci-fi junk: If this is all ya got, why not just posit the aliens as just so very alien that their motives are inscrutable? (Not that that would have salvaged this flick.)

Someday one of these idiotic “they’re here for our resources!” movies is gonna make a gesture toward the realization of its own nonsensicalness with, I dunno, news reports on a TV in the background talking about scientists who are baffled by how the asteroid belt appears to have been disappearing over the past century (cuz, you know, that’s the first logical place for spacefaring invaders to go to harvest natural resources from). (Not that this would have salvaged The Darkest Hour, either.)

At this point, though, “they’re here for our resources!” flicks are becoming their own sort of renewable resource. But burning manure provides more light and heat than anything you’ll find here.


US/Canada release date: Dec 25 2011 | UK release date: Jan 13 2012

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated RAFTL: run away from the light!
MPAA: rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and some language
BBFC: rated 12A (contains moderate horror, violence, threat and language)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes