Sean (Emile Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella) travel to Moscow to try to launch their new website and find that their supposed business partner Skyler (Joel Kinnaman) has taken advantage of the lack of a non-disclosure agreement and launched it on his own.
As the two disconsolate gentleman are at a loose end, trying to crack onto an Australian (Rachael Taylor) and an American (Olivia Thirlby) in a generic nightclub, the sky is lit up by descending balls of light (think a slightly more sparkly and yellow version of Attack the Block) which then start to move around the city, disintegrating everyone they come into contact with and draining the city of its power. Can our protagonists get to safety? Is there anywhere safe? Who will make it? Will the film be able to make us care? All will be answered.
The Darkest Hour, as with many an eventually disappointing film before it, looked great from the premise and trailers. Alien invasion somewhere other than the US, interesting and coherent alien concept (hungry for energy, they come to Earth to drain it, disintegrating any people who come into contact with them), competent cast. What went wrong? So, so much.
The disintegrating effect is pretty nifty, but we saw it in the trailers and once you have seen it a few more times in the film itself, it loses its impact. Even with added tentacles of electricity that hook and reel in victims, in the absence of enough characterisation to make us care about the protagonists, it just doesn’t seem to matter. The film is relatively bold in offing significant characters, but the indifference one feels on witnessing their demise bears witness to the failings of the screenplay. We don’t care that Sean and Ben got shafted by Skyler, we don’t care that Olivia Thirlby argued with her Mum and now might NEVER SEE HER AGAIN. It is a shortcoming that the film cannot get past.
The actors are all fairly competent, but it is hard to believe that a couple of guys who are launching a website are able to grasp complex concepts pertaining to Faraday cages and microwave emitters and too many of Hirsch’s lines can be filed under “generic exposition because we can’t work out how else to communicate this”. Much was made on the film’s theatrical release of a scene where someone goes into a river and appears almost instantaneously several hundred yards further up and yes, it is pretty poor. But it wouldn’t have grated if the film had worked overall or at least, up to that point. It is not nice to have to be critical and it can actually be a little difficult to succinctly break down exactly what it is about unsuccessful ventures like this one that doesn’t work. The overall effect is one of boredom and indifference, but why?
Ultimately, The Darkest Hour has a good concept, but is unable to execute it in a feature length format. Other than the manner of dispatching people, there are no ideas here, no development, no three-dimensional characterisation, nothing to make us care and not enough spectacle to distract us. Once half a dozen people have been disintegrated, it is merely a case of watching the film go through the motions until the laughably sequel-baiting last line, “this is how it starts”. Catch it here if you really haven’t got anything better to do. But you do. Anything will do.
Extras: None. Could have been annoying, especially given the interesting alien concept, but ultimately it feels like a blessing. To have sat through too much gushing about how great everyone was to work with and how much effort went into designing and creating the aliens and effects would only have made the mediocrity of the end product all the more frustrating and disheartening. The HD transfer is really good and you can watch the 3D version if you’re geared up for that sort of thing.