THE DARKEST HOUR. Starring:Emile Hirsch, Olivia THirlby, Rachael Taylor, Max Minghella, Joel Kinnaman. Directed by Chris Gorak. 89 minutes. Rated M.
What most distinguishes the latest alien invasion movie The Darkest Hour,filmed in obligatory 3D, is its similarity to other re-cycled movies about the end of the world (as we know it), and its spectacular setting in today’s Moscow.
Directed by Chris Gorak (Right at Your Door), two young American software designers, Sean (Emile Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella), board a plane for Moscow where they discover that their software has been stolen by Styler (Joel Kinnaman), a shonky Swedish middleman purporting to be their Russian contact.
The two men console themselves in one of Moscow’s nightclubs, and are just getting to know two young women on holiday, Natalie (Olivia Thirlby) and Anne (Rachel Taylor, Red Dog), when the city is plunged into darkness by a power blackout, and eerily beautiful electric ‘jellyfishes’ start falling from the sky.
This is the beginning of an invasion of aliens from outer space, intent on plundering the earth for its mineral deposits. There are some genuinely frightening scenes at the beginning, where a Moscow bridge and the city’s ancient, majestic buildings crumble into the ground, and people snared in the electric tentacles of what looks like floating fairy floss are reduced to ashes. But once the initial shock and excitement settles, there is really nowhere for the story to go.
The invaders are electrical intelligences whose presence can be detected by the sudden coming to life of car lamps, street lights, etc. Not everyone is destroyed. There have to be survivors, of course, the story depends upon it, and in this American-Russian co-production, the nationality of those who live to fight another day is commendably even-handed. However there are times when the film is reduced to no more than a child’s counting game (‘eeny, meeny, miny, moe…’).
The thin, derivative script by Jon Spaihtsis not Cormac McCarthy’s haunting parable The Road, or Spielberg’s chillingly effective take on Orson Well’s War of the Worlds,which the film resembles to a small degree. Rather The Darkest Hour has taken as its template the 1961 film version of The Day of the Triffids, which was always vastly inferior to the John Wyndham classic upon which it was based.
In The Day of the Triffids, the world is held similarly spell-bound while watching an extraordinarily beautiful but fatal display of meteor showers in the night sk,which causes all those watching to be blinded. And while there are no terrifying plants that multiply like the plague and eat people in The Darkest Hour, the impact of the display is much the same: only those closeted away from the lights have any chance of survival.
It’s no coincidence either, that as earth fights back, a submarine becomes the transport of choice to rescue survivors. Also disappointing is the amateurish rendering of the aliens’ faces, which are similar to those on any number of iPod apps. In this regard, it’s a pity that so little genuine imagination has gone into The Darkest Hour. One can only wish that Spaihtshad gone to Wyndham’s book for inspiration, not the film.
Jan Epstein is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out January 19 2012.
20th Century Fox.