Sunday, April 29, 2012

Horror Film Review

The Darkest Hour (2011):  Sci-Fi horror flick!  That takes place in Moscow!  I don't know why that last bit deserves an exclamation point.  Maybe because it's different enough to be interesting.  Alien invasion movies always seem to take place in the U.S. or Britain so setting the action in Russia is refreshing.  I wish I could say the same for the film as a whole. 

Best friends Sean and Ben (Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella) are software designers who travel to Moscow to deliver a pitch to potential investors.  When their business associate Skyler (Joel Kinnaman) poaches their idea and beats them to the meeting, Sean and Ben head to a trendy bar to drown their sorrows.  There, they meet best friends Natalie and Anne (Olivia Thirlby and Rachael Taylor), fellow Americans who are in Russia for reasons that can't possibly matter.  Suddenly, the power goes out, everyone heads outside where they witness what appears to be some funky northern lights and then strange balls of light descending into the city.  One lands in the street in front of our heroes and seems to disappear.  A cop pokes at it with his night stick...and promptly disintegrates into a plume of ash.  And then there's the obligatory running and screaming.  The four friends hole up in the bar's basement with Skyler for three days before daring to venture outside.  When they do, they find a deserted city with ash blowing down its empty streets.  After a few adventures, they find haven in scientist Sergei's (Dato Bakhtadze) apartment that he turned into a Faraday cage (that just means the aliens' electricity-based scanners and defense mechanisms are rendered useless).  There they also meet street-wise, teenage girl Vika (Veronika Vernadskaya).  An automated radio broadcast gives survivors directions to a nuclear sub that will carry them to safety, and so their final adventure begins. 

This a full-on disaster movie so the paltry 89-minute running time is perplexing.  They did film in Moscow so there are plenty of impressive wide shots that reminded me of I Am Legend.  What they didn't do was flesh out the baddies enough.  We only get glimpses of what they look like when their invisible energy shields are disrupted.  And that's another problem.  We don't see the aliens coming.  We just see dead electrical devices coming back to life when they're near.  Cheaper that way, I suppose.  As to why marauding ETs have decided to drop by and decimate the human population...who knows?  Somebody, not a principal character, guesses that since electricity is the aliens' bread and butter, they've come to Earth to steal our conductive minerals.   

Also sacrificed due to the film's shortness is character development.  Slacker Sean inexplicably becomes the group leader.  Apparently Sean and Natalie are supposed to have fallen in love at some point although I have no idea when.  Skyler is wasted as a potential human bad guy when he turns out to be a wuss...and then gets himself ashed early on.  Vika is pretty much ignored and Sergei, arguably the most interesting character, lasts mere minutes.  I'm afraid the filmmakers decided to cash in on Emile Hirsch's newfound popularity and focused on him to the detriment of the rest of the movie.  Sure, he's got the charisma and is nice to look at, but that won't cut it in a Sci-Fi action horror flick geared toward teenage boys and young men.  That said, The Darkest Hour does have enough action and decent visuals to satisfy its target audience.  At least they didn't opt for gratuitous boob shots and irrelevant sex scenes, thank the Lord. 


Acting:  I know Hirsch can act but I'm afraid this was just a paycheck movie for him, so he pretty much just phones it in.  The other performances are entirely forgettable.
Story:  Well, alien invasion and human extermination isn't anything new.  Setting the action in Moscow, however, is.  And I liked that.
Direction:  I really can't fault Chris Gorak's direction.  I just wish there would have been more to direct.  This film should have been at least two hours long, if not longer.
Production Values:  This ain't no low-budget cheapie, so it looks great ($30 million has that effect). 
Gore/FX:  Emphasis on FX.  The CGI is seamless and the way people get killed, disintegration, is unique and pretty damn cool.
Scares:  One.  But it's more of a startle than a scare.
Ending:  A little too Hollywood. 
Verdict:  Should you see The Darkest Hour?  It's forgettable, mindless fun so what the hell.

My Rating:  3 out of 5.

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