Synopsis: The Darkest Hour is the story of five young people who find themselves stranded in Moscow, fighting to survive in the wake of a devastating alien attack.
Release Date: December 25, 2011 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Horror, Science Fiction
Sean (Emile Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella) have just survived an electrical storm aboard a plane upon arrival into Moscow. In Moscow to secure financing for their web start-up things do not improve when the deal falls through but are looking up when they meet two attractive women at a club later that evening, Natalie (Olivia Thirlby) and Anne (Rachael Taylor). Then the power goes out, and what was just a bad turn of luck in the career department ends up being a fight for their very survival. The Darkest Hour is an apocalyptic science fiction film, centering around a group of survivors who must find their way home, if home even exists any longer.
The enemy in The Darkest Hour is an alien being that at first sight is merely an electrical field. Time will reveal this field is a mere shield for a being that just may be made out of an iron-like substance–one never does find out exactly. During the initial attack on Moscow (the city the entire film will remain in and focus upon), Ben, Sean, Natalie, Anne, and Skyler (Joel Kinnaman) hole up in the club’s cellar, eating what they can find in cans and going through the perpetual issues of being trapped fully aware people are dying outside. After four days the decision is made to leave their safe haven and go to the U.S. Embassy in order to find their way home. Stepping foot outside it soon becomes clear the entire city has been destroyed, and few survivors remain while plenty of aliens abound. Hope is not lost on the group of survivors as they make their way through the city, encountering varying types of people and discovering ways to not be killed by the aliens. Death by alien consists of being consumed by the electrical field, leaving behind piles of ash in lieu of a body. Death is swift albeit unpleasant looking, but blood and gore are absent in The Darkest Hour.
Trying to survive amidst a deadly alien race who has invaded earth is nothing new for the science fiction genre and The Darkest Hour is not unique. The only surprise it holds is the unlikely death of certain characters, although given their predispositions at being annoying characters their death is not to be mourned by a viewer. What the film lacks is thrill, suspense, or any real conflict. Moscow has been destroyed, the entire earth as well more than likely, and the one hope of survival the survivor’s have is an easy escape because the alien threat never feels threatening. The Darkest Hour is the simplest of science fiction narratives that is just as easily watchable as it is forgotten.
Screenwriter Jon Spaihts does not seem to know whether he is making a science fiction film in the vein of Omega Man or just a run of the mill B-movie alien-attack picture. The Darkest Hour‘s first half has all of the makings of an Omega Man with the group being sequestered in a cellar and the enemy presence lurking outside. They also find nighttime is the best time to move within the city as the aliens are easier to see/find in the dark with the electrical charge they give off. The film also presents the lone survivor(s) feeling of Omega Man; that the entire world has been killed off and this one group of people must fight back by living or die trying. But The Darkest Hour trips over itself time and again, never making up its mind on what type of science fiction film it is going to be in the end and therefore leaving the viewer without anything to ponder, question, or analyze about the human existence. Spaihts even forgot to include the necessary man vs. (??) that all science fiction films draw from which essentially blames the human race for bringing upon their own destruction–that is part of the fun of an apocalyptic movie after all.
The script continually introduces characters and scenarios to contradict itself. The group is alone in the city but an old woman somehow survived the attack and is bricking up her windows. Her home was impervious to attack while the rest of the city fell victim? Then there is the introduction of the mad-scientist who has created a weapon against the aliens, as well as a cage in his apartment that keeps them out. Do not forget to latch the door because then they can get in–really? The flaws in the science behind this and many other things in The Darkest Hour are plentiful. Even if the science is correct the explanations either do not exist or are done so in a manner where it all still makes no sense. Moving away from what could have been a great Omega Man type film The Darkest Hour uses a radio to squash all hope of greatness, especially since the twist you assume will come with the radio signal, that help is coming, actually ends up being true. That was easy; and Nuclear Submarines do in fact have a purpose in the apocalypse and it is not only to be the cause.
The Darkest Hour has the foundation for a great science fiction narrative, even more so because the aliens use scientific principles to defend themselves and kill. The power of electricity could have been used in so many creative ways, and the dependance on humans with electricity examined in the greater story of The Darkest Hour. Instead we get a bunch of young adults who gather supplies at the mall, team up with a group of rebel Russian militia (who are quite fun to watch, actually) and a neat little ending that makes everyone sure to know the human race will live on; and rest assured, your family is ok because somehow text messages can be received and transmitted in a Russian Submarine days after they were sent and your phone battery has not been charged in a week.
In order for fear to be created one must have the build-up of suspense, an underlying terror of what may lurk around the corner or in the dark. The Darkest Hour‘s aliens arrive in a rainstorm of yellow lights, like lightbulbs filling up the sky. It is a beautiful sight, beauty coming in the form of death yet unbeknownst to the people who flock to the streets to see the light show. Aliens hold every possibility of being scary on film, if the set-up is done correctly. The Darkest Hour does not set-up the attack scenes to scare the viewer because they are just that, set-up. Each time you are more than aware an alien is in the vicinity, as are the characters. The anticipation of when they will attack and how is never created and the film suffers greatly because of the fact. Everything that happens is expected, and even the deaths are inevitable. There is also only one way to die by alien encounter and so one grows bored quickly. A being that uses electricity to feed brings to mind a great deal of inventive ways to wipe out a human race, The Darkest Hour only managed to use one of these ideas and it is the weakest.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Chris Gorak
- Producer(s): Timur Bekmambetov
- Screenwriter: Jon Spaihts
- Cast: Emile Hirsch (Sean), Olivia Thirlby (Natalie), Max Minghella (Ben), Rachael Taylor (Anne), Joel Kinnaman (Skyler), Veronika Ozerova (Vika), Dato Bakhtadze (Sergei)
- Cinematographer: Scott Kevan
- Production Designer: Valeri Viktorov
- Country Of Origin: USA