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There are some legitimately interesting concepts at play in Chris Gorak’s The Darkest Hour. It features a creative alien design, plays with some cool scientific ideas and takes place in a fairly uncommon international setting. But filmmaking isn’t just about concept, it’s about execution. Glossing over all of the attention-grabbing elements, presenting flat characters and zero drama, the Russian-set science-fiction film is little more than a terrible mix of incompetence and missed opportunity.
The story follows two young entrepreneurs, Sean and Ben (Emile Hirsch, Max Minghella), who travel to Moscow for a business opportunity. Undercut by a thieving competitor (Joel Kinnaman), the two protagonists arrive at a nightclub where the unthinkable happens: aliens made of pure energy unleash a global invasion. The men group with their competitor as well as two women they meet at the club (Olivia Thirlby, Rachel Taylor) and they do everything they can to survive the attack from the invisible enemy.
The Darkest Hour’s biggest problem isn’t undeveloped characters as much as it is the need to establish any in the first place. At the start of the film, Sean is painted as being a fast-talker and a bit childish, but even that disappears once the battle against the aliens begins. Without individual personalities, it’s impossible for the audience to have any sort of connection with the characters and they fail to even form authentic relationships between themselves because they are all so bland. The group does run into other survivors, but they are all just as one-dimensional as the leads and only serve to provide key pieces of exposition that keep the barely-there-plot moving. The only reason to cheer for these people is because they have managed to survive, and that’s just not enough.
Because we don’t care about whether the characters live or die, the movie is devoid of thrills and drama. The characters develop an interesting system to use light sources to tell if one of the aliens is nearby, but the movie never takes the extra effort to try and use that effect to build suspense or tension. The same problem exists on the emotional side. Even when one of the central characters is killed, the plot moves on so quickly that they might as well have never existed in the first place. The Darkest Hour is constantly in a rush to get somewhere even though it’s clear that it has no idea where it’s going.
The wasted potential in the film is sad bordering on egregious. While the Russian setting is meant to add fish-out-of-water tension, the only thing that makes the exotic locale special is one off-the-cuff line about the Cyrillic script. While invisible enemies are terrifying in theory, Gorak’s lazy direction and poor CGI results in the “heroes” being chased down hallways by what look like puffs of yellow smoke. The movie even commits the sin of killing off the one and only interesting/fun character within 10 minutes of his introduction. Every interesting aspect of The Darkest Hour is totally and utterly bungled.
The only thing that Chris Gorak’s film has going for it is the pacing, but that comes because so much of everything else has been sacrificed. The characters are constantly moving from place and while the alien attacks aren’t effective in terms of establishing terror, there are enough of them to keep to keep the audience’s attention. The final product reeks of a script that started as an epic tale of survival in a foreign land and was slowly whittled down until only the action bare-essentials remained. The result is a product that movies quickly and is predictable, filled with flat characters, and has zero tension. Why would anyone want to see a movie like that?