Darkest Hour, The (2011)
Directed by Chris Gorak
Have you spent the past year wishing for a movie to come along that would make a perfect second half of a double-bill to go along with Skyline? Well, merry Christmas to you all, for The Darkest Hour has arrived.
Whereas Skyline finally gave the world an alien invasion movie told entirely from the point-of-view of characters worthy of “Melrose Place”, The Darkest Hour transplants those L.A. douchebags to Moscow and forces them to run around in a desperate search to find someplace safe from the scourge of evil invisible energy extraterrestrials that disintegrate people on contact. Make no doubt about it. The primary characters of this motion picture, as was the case with Skyline, are young, good looking up-and-comers with an unmistakable aura of douchery to them. It’s kind of a shame the alien invaders weren’t zipping around in old school UFOs because a perfect title for this movie then would have been Douchebags vs. the Flying Saucers.
Speed Racer (Emilie Hirsch) and the guy from The Social Network who was sort of like the pipsqueak manager of The Winklevoss Twins had they been a pro wrestling tag team (Max Minghella) are entrepreneurial website software designers on a business trip to Moscow. There is an unmistakable degree of douchebaggery to their personas right from the get-go that makes them a little hard to like, especially having to listen to them talk about how finalizing this deal will make them billionaires and allow them to achieve the full potential of their wannabe douchebagginess. Even their website is douchey: a social networking GPS unit for douchebags to find all the hottest night spots in a major city and hook up with fellow douchebags in the area. Their fortunes are dashed when they get to Russia and find out their douchebag business associate has stolen their website idea out from under them and already sold it to the Russians. Best I can figure, I as an audience member am supposed to sympathize with these two because they got out-douched.
As luck and highly convenient screenwriting would have it, all three of them end up together again at the same Russian nightclub the night energy aliens rain from the sky like glowing orange snowflakes. What are the odds of that happening?
Also joining them on their plight for survival will be two attractive young vacationing women who are even more vapid than the men are douchey. They’re portrayed by Olivia Thirlby and Rachel Taylor, or as I’m more inclined to call them, “Not Anne Hathaway” and “Not Alice Eve”.
The five characters around which this movie is built are quite possibly the shallowest group of protagonists since, well, Skyline. It is the ultimate fight for survival between vacuous entities and entities from the vacuum of space. The thieving business partner tries to make a profound statement early on about who you really are deep down shines through in life or death situations. If that’s the case, then he was a rainbow of cowardice, bravery, and foolishness at the screenwriter’s discretion, Max Minghella’s character was a blank slate, “Not Anne Hathaway” was an irritating ninny, “Not Alice Eve” was an impetuous idiot, and Emile Hirsch seemed too keenly aware he was to become the John Connor of this human uprising against inhuman oppressors.
After taking refuge in the nightclub cellar for a week, they make their way to the surface to find Moscow almost completely deserted except for a few eccentric survivors that are all more interesting and likable than any of them.
They’ll meet a teenage Russian girl with more pluck and personality than either of the two female leads, but then the script does nothing with her except use her as the means by which to introduce them to the wacky Russian electrician who has figured out the key to fighting back against these energy aliens and has jury-rigged a microwave laser weapon that looks like a ray gun Fred Sanford could have slapped together from some electrical parts and a Nerf cannon found in his junk yard.
From there they’ll meet up with a band of resistance fighters that all seem more keenly aware they’re starring in a cheesy sci-fi b-movie than the taking-things-way-too-seriously leads.
Nobody takes all this more seriously than Emile Hirsch, once again proving to me that he has the same problem as Jason Patric in that he’s a very talented actor completely ill-suited for action hero roles. Like Patric, he’s just too joylessly serious to be playing the lead in frivolous popcorn entertainment such as this. That excessive seriousness does lead to a few bursts of oddball intensity that you just kind of have to see to fully understand how weirdly forced they are. Or those awkward moments could have just been Hirsch’s way of barely masking his contempt for the material that certainly seemed to have contempt for the intelligence of his character and the audience.
For example, Hirsch and Minghella are looting a police car for weapons when they notice a dog a few yards away barking at the air and then getting disintegrated by an unseen alien. They’ll hide underneath the squad car while the invisible alien passes over the vehicle. Less than ten seconds later, Hirsch declares that it’s gone and they can safely come out. How the hell does he know it’s gone? The alien is invisible, they’re in a wide open location, and they wouldn’t even have known it was lurking a few feet from them in the first place if not for that dog. This will not be the last time Hirsch gets saddled with some of the year’s dumbest dialogue.
When they get separated from “Not Anne Hathaway” and the Russian commander tells him there’s no point risking their lives trying to save her because she’s probably already dead, Hirsch emphatically states that he knows she’s alive because “she’s really good at hiding!” It is one of the most inexplicable moments of movie dialogue in a long time, not just because of how corny that line sounds, but because at no point has it ever been established that this girl is really good at hiding. It had been established that the teenage Russian girl was really good at hiding, leaving me to wonder if this whole climactic rescue was originally designed for her and not the whimpering halfwit so useless to the human race that when she’s ducking inside of one of the many parked buses at a bus depot she would rather yell out the number of the bus she is hiding in for Hirsch to come find her rather than actually step outside, making it much easier to locate her in this maze of buses while he’s putting his life on the line looking for her. Of all the douchebags in this movie, I hated her the most.
Amazing to think this was directed by the same guy responsible for Right at Your Door, a tense and intelligent apocalyptic thriller, the polar opposite of this too serious to be fun, too silly to be taken seriously hodgepodge of Night of the Comet, 28 Days Later, and, again, Skyline that lacks the humor of the first, the thrills of the second, or even the cool computerized monsters of the latter.
The only thing seeing The Darkest Hour in 3D adds is a few extra dollars to the price of the ticket. Why even bother with 3D when your movie is about invisible aliens that cause light bulbs to shine and radios and cell phones to crackle?
All you see of these energy aliens for 90% of the film is an orange glob of ghost lights and the infrequent energy tendril that snares people. When we finally do get to see what lives inside of their protective energy shields, any uniqueness of the creature design is offset by the pathetic computer effects work that is honestly worse than the CGI I have seen in many a Syfy movie. Their true form is what I imagine a gyroscope designed by HR Giger would look like; like if the tail of an Alien formed a floating gyroscope with a semi-skull head in the middle. They’re a perfect metaphor for the movie itself: an intriguing idea with lots of promise brought to life in the least believable manner possible.
The best I can say for The Darkest Hour is that I was not completely bored even though I rarely gave a damn about anything or anyone on the screen and after a while the only thing that kept me intrigued was the train wreck quality of this debacle. And believe me, it is a train wreck.
Skyline 2: Mission to Moscow.
2 out of 5