The Darkest Hour (2011)
The Darkest Hour should have been more appropriately titled The Stupidest Hour, or Darwinian Natural Selection in Action. It really is a microcosm of all that is wrong with mainstream Hollywood at present and it saddens me that this film was made by director Chris Gorak. His previous movie Right at You Door was the exact opposite of The Darkest Hour, being intelligent, well scripted and focused. Prior to directing Gorak has had a successful career as an art director, working for such luminaries as David Fincher, the Coen brothers, and Terry Gilliam. His flair for the visual is present in The Darkest Hour but it would appear that the production design and visual effects were given priority over a good script. I shall endeavour to summarise the plot and provide a brief overview of the films respective merits, although there are precious little.
Americans Ben and Sean (Max Minghella and Emile Hirsch), a pair of two dimensional, uninteresting software engineers go to Moscow to look for investment in their smartphone app (oh how very modern). However, their Swedish business partner (Joel Kinnaman) and singularly unpleasant representative of humanity steals their intellectual property. Subsequently Ben and Sean seek comfort in a night club and meet two equally unedifying examples of womankind; Natalie (Olivia Thirlby), an American, and her Australian friend Anne (Rachael Taylor). It is at this point in the proceeding’s that invisible aliens decide to pop down to earth for a bit of an invasion and some global asset stripping, which proves to be a bit of an inconvenience. This unprepossessing bunch then lurch from cliché to cliché, continuously making bad choices. Imagine an episode of Scooby Doo in which all of the characters are recovering from major head trauma and you'll get the picture.
So, where to start? Well The Darkest Hour has a fundamentally bland and uninspired screenplay. The basic idea of energy beings is in principle better than the usual bipedal aliens that we see in such films. However, the idea runs out of steam quickly, especially when we see one outside of its invisible shield. They give the creatures anthropomorphic faces which immediately kills off any credibility. There is also no attempt to flesh out characters back story, beyond the functional. The Moscow setting although striking, doesn’t offer any new perspective on such standard genre material nor do the Russian characters. The films major flaw is that the plot is so unremittingly stupid it beggars belief. I appreciate that people do not always make the wisest decisions while under pressure but the most basic notions of rational thinking are jettisoned to create faux drama. The only innovation shown throughout the films eighty-nine-minute running time are the visual effects and the way the energy being are depicted. Apart from this, The Darkest Hour is pure dot to dot movie making.
The Darkest Hour feels like focus group film making. You can imagine someone standing at a whiteboard taking notes, as a room full of studio executives brainstormed what are the essential tropes of a PG-13 rated action sci-fi movie. As a result, the movie feels like it is working through a list of narrative points and lacks any personal connection of wider depth. What could have been an interesting variation on a theme, is simply an exercise in insincerity and stupidity. If a studio is happy to sell such a product then it doesn’t say much about what they think about their target audience. I hope in the future, director Chris Gorak distances himself from such companies and returns to producing material of the quality of his previous movie, Right at Your Door. Films such as The Darkest Hour do nothing for the genre apart from accelerate the pace of the race to the bottom.