THE DARKEST HOUR
The Darkest Hour is a US-Russian co-production that has been made in conjunction with the Bazelevs production company of Timur Bekmambetov. Bekmambetov made a big international noise a few years ago as director of Night Watch (2004) and its sequel Day Watch (2006), before going onto the US to make Wanted (2008) and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (2012), as well as having produced 9 (2009), Apollo 18 (2011), Unfriended/Cybernatural (2014) and Hardcore Henry (2015). The director of The Darkest Hour is Chris Gorak, an American production designer and art director who had previously made only one film with Right at Your Door (2006) about the detonation of a dirty bomb in L.A., which had him listed at the time as one of the most promising new directors. The script comes from Leslie Bohem who also wrote The Horror Show (1989), A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989), Daylight (1996), Dantes Peak (1997) and previously ventured into the topic of alien visitors as creator of the tv mini-series Taken (2002). The other interesting name on the credits is that of Jon Spaihts who, while The Darkest Hour is a debut script for him, subsequently co-wrote Prometheus (2012), Doctor Strange (2016) and Passengers (2016).
The Russian influence gives The Darkest Hour the potentially interesting twist of being an alien invasion film that takes places with Moscow as a location. This is a remarkable reversal of the situation in the 1950s where the aliens in many of the alien invader films were seen as a thinly veiled stand-in for the Communists. Now, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the very centre of the country (with the Kremlin as a backdrop even) has become a venue where Americans and Russians are standing shoulder to shoulder in a battle against the faceless invaders. Look a little closer and things go even further than that for The Darkest Hour is not just about Russian-American cooperation but one that has the spread of American cultural dominion as its central focus. It seems to be a film that is only about the cool of its twentysomething quartet of characters, all of whom are American even supposedly Rachael Taylor who for reasons inexplicable speaks with her native Australian accent. Any other ethnicity is left for lower down the casting chain the villain is Swedish, while the Russians are relegated to the supporting cast. Moscow is certainly used for its iconic tourist appeal but most of this seems (in the early introductory sections) to be simply about seeing familiar brand names like McDonalds and Burger King in Cyrillic script ie. this is a film not about examining the cultural differences and sights of another country but about playing solidly to familiar cultural signifiers in its audience.
It is rare when I have disliked the characters in a film intensely within the first five minutes but everything about the foursomes culturally self-absorbed hipness grates. The Darkest Hour is entirely about making a film that appeals to contemporary youth audiences. The guys are computer geeks and have lines complaining about having to wear suit and ties rather than T-shirts to business meetings, while the girls seem only identified as being party girls. They come out with lines like I learned my Russian from watching Rocky IV , which is cute as throwaway line but astonishingly ignorant in terms of regarding another countrys culture and language. This unfortunately is the sum of The Darkest Hour, which wants no more than to regard Moscow as a novelty tourist destination and tell a story about how the American gamer geeks and party girls saved the world (as opposed to any of the scientists or soldiers who would have been the heroes in any alien invader film of the 1950s or any other era). There is precisely zero effort made to depict Russia and its cultural differences beyond visiting nightclubs, shopping malls and the highlighting of international franchises.
The latter half of The Darkest Hour is more interesting than the first where the scenes of survival and trying to find a means to combat the aliens take over. That said, The Darkest Hour is never anything more than a special effects vehicle. The script invests almost nothing in the team attempting to discover a means of fighting back even the principal weapon is one handed to them by someone else. There is almost nothing done with the City Deserted concept an idea with a rich heritage in apocalyptic genre cinema from Target Earth (1954) onwards other than it providing novelty locations. Chris Gorak certainly demonstrates a more than competent hand with the effects scenes, which are slickly accomplished, but the film has no more depth than the provision of a series of disintegrations at various intervals, which eventually prove repetitive. The film comes in the current fad for 3-D it was at least shot that way rather than converted in post-production, but the results feel astonishingly pointless as the film does precisely nothing in terms of popping objects out of the screen or framing what we see in terms of depth perspective it is a film that looks exactly the same seen flat or in 3D, the sole difference being that theatre chains were able to bilk an extra three dollars ticket price out of an audience.