In its own perverse way, production designer-turned-director Chris Gorak’s new flick The Darkest Hour makes for a rather interesting companion piece to other 2011 trips down nostalgia lane like The Artist, Hugo and The Muppets. Like those films, this movie is perhaps best appreciated as a modernized homage to its predecessors, regardless of whether such homage was actually intended.
When I say “predecessors,” however, I refer not to other classic invasion/horror flicks like The Thing From Another World or The Day the Earth Stood Still. I refer instead to the likes of Plan 9 from Outer Space or Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, works so fundamentally devoid of logic, perception of suspense, or minimal insight on the human experience that they come to the cinema predestined for an afterlife involving video store bargain bins and late-night fratboy drinking games. Gorak’s film, despite its comparatively more generous budget and less plainly cheesy special effects, comes to the multiplexes feeling similarly predestined.
The Darkest Hour begins unpromisingly enough, introducing Sean and Ben (Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella) two young entrepreneurs visiting Moscow to make their first major international business deal. In possibly one of the most outlandishly stupid acts of corporate shanghaiing I’ve ever seen in a movie, their would-be partner in Moscow very obviously steals the same idea Sean and Ben hoped to sell him. Left with no recourse (we are meant to believe, simply because Ben says so, that the Russian legal system is too twisted and corrupt to deliver justice), the two jilted men hit up a bar to wallow in their sorrows, meeting up with a pair of attractive, English-speaking women (Olivia Thirlby and Rachel Taylor) who happen to be visiting Moscow at the same time.
Of course, this offers the perfect set-up for legions of invisible extraterrestrial beings to descend from the heavens upon Moscow. Prepared, of course, to destroy all humankind, the nameless beings possess a Palpatine-like ability to evaporate its victims with their deadly bolts of projectile electricity. I call them “invisible,” but that’s really something of a misnomer seeing as the beings radiate an electromagnetic force-field that illuminates any streetlights or car headlights as they menacingly float by. Of course, should no actual sources of electricity be readily available, the aliens still occasionally glow orange. – you know, just in case their ability to remain unseen winds up being poorly served by the predominantly visual medium in which they are depicted.
The Darkest Hour is littered with countless alien invasion movie references, most of which coming from Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, and none of them are aped with any kind of soulfulness or affection. So bountiful are the opportunities to begin picking apart Gorak’s uninspired vision, it almost negates the inherent fun in deconstructing a movie so risibly inept on every conceivable level.
Do I begin by bemoaning the logically deficient choices of characters who deduce themselves into predicaments that could only ever have resulted in their certain deaths? Do I mock the direction Gorak clearly gave Thirlby and Taylor to hold hands pseudo-suggestively as they warily navigate the vacant Moscow streets, continuing to hold them even in the most logistically inconvenient scenarios? Do I ridicule the characters so lacking in dimension, that one blonde character literally gets swapped out for another blonde character just before the final act? Perhaps, if prompted, I could even take some time to deconstruct what I found to be the movie’s bizarrely isolationist tone against the non-American Other (specifically Russians).
But putting an already critical and financial dud like The Darkest Hour through that kind of ringer seems tantamount to kicking a baby three-toed sloth into an electric fan; it’s just not that fun to do something so painfully easy, and no real value can be wrung from it. So instead, in my final paragraphs of this review, I am going to betray my deep misgivings of the film and halfheartedly recommend that this film be valued at the bargain-bin price it’s sure someday to cost. Personally, I saw The Darkest Hour for free, on my birthday, accompanied by roughly half a dozen of my friends in whose snarky, self-satisfied glory I could bask while subjecting myself to what would otherwise have been a tormenting experience.
Should you ever subject yourself to this movie, try your hardest to emulate that precise scenario, and you will wring whatever ironic joy there is to be achieved in The Darkest Hour.
Bottom Line: The Darkest Hour is so besotted with terrible filmmaking that you will keel over either from sheer boredom or uncontrollable laughter.