Title: The Darkest Hour
Play time: 1h 29min
Director: Chris Gorak
Screenwriters: Jon Spaihts
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Max Minghella, Joel Kinnaman, Rachael Taylor
Surviving the Aftermath of an Alien Invasion in The Darkest Hour
This year’s obligatory Christmas counter-programming is The Darkest Hour, director Chris Gorak’s follow-up to his clever low-budget curiosity Right at Your Door. Filmed almost entirely on location in Moscow, the sci-fi thriller follows a group of young Americans (played by Emile Hirsch, Max Minghella, and Olivia Thirlby) as they try to survive in the aftermath of an alien invasion. If that sounds awfully intriguing, you’re not alone — when I first read roughly that logline more than a year ago in some 2011 movie preview, the film rocketed onto my must-see list. I now sadly report that The Darkest Hour is terrible, and not just the ordinary kind of terrible that accompanies incompetence or laziness. Instead, the flailing, jittery film suggests extensive corporate meddling, and an overall lack of confidence in the enterprise.
Gorak Inserts in The Darkest Hour a bit of Weird Russian Patriotism
There’s still a bit of pleasure to be extracted from the movie’s no-shit use of Moscow locations, and its small trove of fun ideas — the characters are terrorized by invisible alien creatures who kill on contact but give themselves away by activating any electric appliances in their vicinity. But The Darkest Hour quickly proves almost comically inept at navigating beyond its own set-up. The plot mechanics are among the klutziest I’ve seen in a while, simultaneously dependent on ridiculous coincidences and laboring mightily to convey tedious exposition and haul the film to its next also-rans action set piece. There’s a “romance” that’s such a ludicrous afterthought that it can only have been inserted post-haste after someone demanded a love story. Emile Hirsch, typically a fine and intensely physical actor, is listless and unenthusiastic in the lead role. The extensive access to Moscow seems to have come at the price of inserting a heaping dose of weird Russian patriotism. Much of the film takes place at night and in darkness, yet the characters’ faces are somehow always brightly lit, like they’re on a game show. There are obviously two distinct endings, one tacked on after the other, like Gorak couldn’t pick between two concluding zingers.
The Movie Felt ‘Loosely’
The entire thing feels retooled and endlessly tinkered with; both overcooked and not ready for prime time. Right at the Door was good enough that I’m reluctant to blame Gorak, and it seems vanishingly unlikely that the film made it to the screen in anything like the form in which screenwriter Jon Spaihts initially conceived it. The Darkest Hour mostly plays like a failure of management.