The Darkest Hour REVIEW
What a load of cobbles.
Release Date: 21 May 2012
2011 | 12 | 85 minutes | £19.99 (DVD)/£24.99 (quadruple-play Blu-ray 3D)
Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Director: Chris Gorak
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Max Minghella, Rachel Taylor, Joel Kinnaman, Veronika Ozerova
The revelation in the Making Of documentary on The Darkest Hour that the film was greenlit on the strength of an animatic demonstrating one of its death scenes comes as little surprise once you’ve watched it. The spectacular “shredding” effects – in which victims are sucked down what looks like a giant, invisible waste disposal unit – are possibly the only truly memorable thing about this by-the-numbers alien invasion flick.
Other potential USPs vie for attention, but largely fail to make a lasting impression. The film is set in Moscow, which makes for a pretty backdrop, but it’s is hardly Hitchcockian in making a character out of its location. After a brief introductory scene on a plane, the two leads land in Moscow, but before we’re shown Red Square or the Kremlin we’re treated to loving shots of a Russian Starbucks and a Russian McDonald’s. This could possibly be a searing indictment of the homogenised world we now live in, but you suspect that the truth is rather more mundane; the Making Of also features the director and the producer mentioning on numerous occasions how tight the budget was. Is that the ker-ching of product placement we hear?
The invisible, electricity-channelling aliens make for a pleasant change from CG reptiles and robots. The gimmick that they charge up electrical items when they’re in the vicinity is a clever one, but you can’t help feeling that the film doesn’t play with the idea as much as it could. Sure, the human survivors use light bulbs as an early warning system and hide inside makeshift Faraday cages to avoid detection, but the potential for some really creepy scenes using flickering lights or radios bursting to life is squandered as director Chris Gorak largely defaults to action rather than suspense. After a while the aliens’ modus operandi loses its impact.
But the deaths are good, and each one is choreographed with loving care so that they, at least, retain a freshness to the end. Mind you, it’s never quite explained what the aliens have against shoes. For some reason, while they shred everything else to atoms, there’s invariably a shoe left flying towards the camera. We’re suspecting it has less to do with some kind of extra-terrestrial foot fetish and more to do with 3D…
As for the rest, it’s a competent but overly familiar tale of a small group of humans struggling to survive in the debris of an Earth that’s been attacked by aliens. After the carnage of first contact with the deadly aliens, four American tourists (two guys, two gals) and a dodgy Russian businessman hide away for days, until forced back out onto the streets through lack of food. It’s now that you can start to play the game of “who gets picked off in what order?”, though it’s made less fun by the fact that you’ll probably guess correctly, so clearly is the pecking order signposted.
We get lots of running round empty streets (during which you may be distracted by Max Minghella’s curiously floppy-footed running style), a few close shaves with the aliens, scenes with our heroes meeting other survivors and learning how to strike back, and the ultimate showdown which proves humanity ain’t defeated yet. It’s efficiently shot and competently acted, and an amusing eccentric Russian inventor and an indignant cat offer some light relief. But it’s all so wearyingly over-familiar, with a disappointingly misjudged climactic reveal of what the aliens actually look like (you kinda wish they hadn’t bothered) and an unconvincing romance.
The film doesn’t outstay its welcome, though; at a tad under an hour and a half it has the grace to finish before the clichés become too inexcusable and the FX guys run out of new ways to make the shredder deaths look cool.
While you probably won’t be left gagging for a sequel, if you enjoyed Skyline and Battle: Los Angeles then there‘s probably a place on your shelf for The Darkest Hour. But if you’re looking for a new twist on the alien invasion genre, there’s nothing here to suggest that much has moved on since HG Wells in his heyday.
Aside from a digital copy, the DVD has only five deleted scenes. The 3D Blu-ray (which comes with Blu-ray, DVD and a digital copy) adds a brief Making Of and a short film. The Making Of (12 minutes) is decent enough, though not exactly revolutionary. Eight-minute film “Survivors” is surprisingly good fun, following pockets of humanity around the globe as they strike back at the aliens. It may be short, but it’s well shot and edited, with some nifty FX. You can’t help thinking that the main film might have benefited from having bits of “Survivors” edited into it. Although it’d be cruel to say that in eight minutes it manages to be more entertaining than the main feature, it’s certainly better than an eight-minute section of the film.
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For an alternate perspective, read our The Darkest Hour review from the theatrical release.