The Darkest Hour FILM REVIEW

Russian around

Americans in Moscow get caught up in an alien invasion.

"Aw, screw it, let's just drink vodka until we all pass out."

Release Date: 13 January 2012
12A * 88 minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Director: Chris Gorak
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Max Minghella, Rachael Taylor, Joel Kinnaman, Veronika Ozerova, Dato Bakhtadze, Gosha Kutsenko

We’re sure The Darkest Hour looked, on paper, like solid alien invasion entertainment. Plant a few young characters in the middle of Moscow to allow for a change of scenery from the usual generic American city. Add in the seemingly ripe idea of energy-based extraterrestrials invading Earth and disintegrating most opposition, leaving a few stragglers (including our heroes) fighting for survival. Cast some established talents as the humans and give the directing reigns to Chris Gorak, who memorably made paranoid radiation thriller Right At Your Door. Finally, create the power-obsessed menace out of CGI, with Wanted/Night Watch overlord Timur Bekmambetov on hand to help wrangle the madness. Sadly, what’s emerged is a dumb, underwritten, and unimpressive little thriller that wastes all the potential.

Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella are two American software developer types (one’s a charming rascal! One’s a buttoned-down thoughtful guy!) in Russia to launch their new app – but then they discover it’s been stolen by sneaky Swede Skyler (Joel Kinnaman). Drowning their sorrows in a bar with two fetching ladies (Olivia Thirlby and Rachael Taylor), their financial worries become the least of their troubles when nasty, crackling alien types descend from the sky and begin zapping everyone in sight. Soon, the five are almost all the only ones left alive in a deserted Moscow. Can they make it to the salvation promised by a mysterious transmission?

What follows is your run-of-the-mill (or in this case, run-of-the-empty-streets) thriller as our leads figure out ways to detect the aliens and attempt to fight back, only for several of the party to be lost along the way. Nothing here feels all that fresh, and while there are some neat touches (the ash left behind by zapped humans is a haunting image), the characters are ciphers and the action is largely thrill-free. The effects feel like a cheat (invisible aliens might be a nice way to tease out the tension, but they come across more as budget-stretching excuses) and the drama’s strictly soapy. Hirsch and co rarely get more to do than scream and dash around.

In what might prove to be one of the most egregious examples of concept far outstripping execution, The Darkest Hour ends up as this year’s Skyline: aliens+paper-thin screenplay=cinematic snooze.

James White

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