‘The Darkest Hour’ movie review: Emile Hirsch in Moscow-set sci-fi thriller

Chris Gorak’s The Darkest Hour has two things going for it: shots of a completely deserted Moscow that recall similar shots of L.A. in The Omega Man (and of New York in its remake, I Am Legend), and an unusual alien menace represented as clouds of electric particles.

Other than that, however, this is a strictly by-the-numbers alien invasion flick, coming in the wake of a number of similar films in recent years, that offers little new. For what it’s worth, I liked it (slightly) better than the similar-themed Skyline and the more military-focused (and entirely incoherent) Battle: Los Angeles.

The Darkest Hour stars Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella as Sean and Ben, young entrepreneurs who travel to Moscow to work out a deal for their new social networking site, only to be double-crossed upon arrival by deceitful businessman Skyler (Joel Kinnaman). Afterwards, they drown their sorrows in a local nightclub, and meet young tourists Natalie (Olivia Thirlby) and Anne (Rachael Taylor).

But hold on – it just happens to be the end of the world as radiant clouds of electricity (that look and behave like dandelion pappus floating through the air) descend on Moscow (and presumably, the rest of the Earth). They look benign, but one touch and they’ll vaporize a living organism into a cloud of ash.

As the world outside is ravaged, Sean, Ben, Natalie, Anne, and (for good measure) Skylar hole up in the nightclub’s back room to wait out the end of days, surviving on alcohol and garnishes. Soon, they’ll have to go out (at night, where the electric aliens can be more easily spotted).

But where? Why, the American Embassy, of course. Moscow may be devastated, with nary a soul on the streets, but the embassy will know what to do.

The Darkest Hour, its title taken from a Churchill phrase, offers fleeting moments of fun as our heroes have to discover the aliens’ weaknesses (they light up electric items as they pass, and can’t see through glass) and outsmart them.

These strange creatures cannot be fought via traditional means, you see, at least until the film’s climax, when they’re annihilated by a microwave-emitting weapon, rocket launchers, and machine guns.

While it may be decent-enough B-movie late-night fare, more was expected given the pedigree behind (and in front of the camera) and the Christmas Day release date (and “Survive the Holidays” tagline). Producer Timur Bekmambetov previously made the far more imaginative Day Watch and Night Watch, and director Chris Gorak made the low-budget thriller Right at Your Door. I wasn’t a big fan of that one, either, but it was tightly-plotted and generally effective.

The talented cast, headed by Hirsch (whose choice of projects here is odd after impressive lead work in Into the Wild and Speed Racer), struggles to bring any kind of dimension to their underwritten characters. Jon Spaihts’ uninspired screenplay deserves a lot of the blame. Not a good sign: he’s one of the credited writers on Ridley Scott’s upcoming Alien prequel, Prometheus.

The Darkest Hour was filmed in 3D, which is entirely underutilized and adds little other than a layer of darkness to an already too-dark presentation.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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