Monday, January 2, 2012

It Came From The Cineplex: The Darkest Hour

The Darkest Hour was written by Jon Spaihts and directed by Chris Gorak. Would it surprise you to learn that this is Spaihts' first screenplay, and only the second film Gorak has directed? It shouldn't. 

The film tells the story of a group of twenty-somethings visiting Moscow when an alien invasion occurs and virtually destroys the world. The movie premiered on Xmas day 2011, no doubt so the producers could blame the inevitable poor box office showing on the busy holiday.

SPOILERS, I SUPPOSE

This is a what I like to call a Discount Alien Invasion movie; one that doesn't quite have the budget to pull off its ambitious story. In fact it looks and feels very much like a SyFy movie that somehow got released to theaters by mistake.

One of the biggest examples of the film's budget consciousness: the aliens initially look a bit like glowing jellyfish falling from the sky, but once they hit the ground they become invisible. Gee, that was certainly convenient! Invisible aliens mean you don't have to pay anyone to design their look or render a CGI army. The aliens interfere with electrical fields, so for 90% of the movie they're simply indicated by having light bulbs momentarily glow as they move past them.

This less-is-more, unseen monster approach can sometimes work particularly well in a film, as it did in Jaws. This time, not so much. Here less isn't more, it's most definitely less.

Another low-budget tactic: during the initial attack, a handful of survivors seeks shelter in a basement and hide there for four or five days, according to onscreen captions. They then cautiously peek their heads out and see that the city of Moscow has been destroyed. This trick saved the film makers from having to spend money on Independence Day-like destruction and battle scenes. It also removed any possibility of action and excitement from the film.

The final cost-slashing scheme: at the end of the film the humans finally discover how to destroy the seemingly indestructible aliens. They send the message to the few survivors spread across the globe, as the main character nods knowingly and says, "This is how it begins." That's an odd thing to say at the tail end of your movie. They don't have the money to show humanity whupping the aliens, so they have to resort to implying our eventual victory.

The performances are passable at best and the film has a very disjointed feel, as if it was heavily edited and there are lengthy scenes missing.

There's one unintentionally hilarious scene that happens when the characters first hole up in the basement. Everyone mills around for a good sixty seconds of screen time, shouting things like "What's happening?" "What are those things?" and "What are we going to do?" The problem is, no one's mouth is moving the slightest bit during this entire sequence. What a time for everyone to practice their ventriloquism!

One more thing I noticed: virtually every single effects shot in the movie is in the trailer. So if you've seen the trailer, you've pretty much seen the entire film.

I will give props where they're due though: it was nice to see an alien invasion take place somewhere besides New York or Los Angeles for once. The actual Moscow locations are a refreshing change of pace and a definite plus, giving a much-needed sense of isolation and disorientation to the film.

If you've ever watched one of SyFy's made for TV movies on a Saturday night and thought, "Gee, I wonder what it would be like to see one of these in a theater," then The Darkest Hour will fulfill your wildest fantasies. I give it a D.

3 comments:

  1. The movie may have sucked, but at least your review rocks! LOL@ the no mouth moving scene!!

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  2. Man, that movie really sucks, the lastima 30 minutes are lame. Good review BTW.

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  3. @Dawn: Thanks, Dawn. I guess they hoped no one would notice the character's mouths weren't moving. Luckily I was there to catch it.


    @Chris: I wasn't expecting to see Shakespeare when I went to see it, but I was hoping for something a *little* better than what we got. When you mention "the last 30 minutes," do you mean the "Mad Max" Russian army soldiers? I forgot to mention them!

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