Comic-Con ’11: Interview with ‘Darkest Hour’ Director Chris Gorak: It’s “‘Jaws’ [Meets] ’28 Days Later’ With Aliens”

At Comic-Con this weekend I had an opportunity to briefly sit down with director Chris Gorak, who made a splash at Sundance in 2006 with the low-budget indie thriller Right at Your Door and subsequently won a high-profile studio directing gig with the upcoming alien invasion film The Darkest Hour.

Following a short presentation earlier in the day in which Gorak, producers Tom Jacobson and Monnie Wills, and cast members Emile Hirsch, Max Minghella, and Joel Kinnaman presented a first-ever screening of the film’s intriguing theatrical trailer, I met with Gorak one-on-one to get a better idea of what we can expect.

San Diego Comic Con The Darkest Hour

Here’s the story in, a nutshell: Two pairs of young Americans (Hirsch/Minghella and Rachael Taylor/Olivia Thirlby) meet at a bar while traveling abroad in Moscow. Shortly thereafter, there is an apocalyptic-scale alien invasion that kills off the majority of the city’s population and renders all electric devices useless.

The aliens turn out to be invisible creatures made up of “wave energy” that kill by “shredding” humans (i.e. instantly reducing their bodies to ash) with a deadly electrical force. Navigating their way through the aftermath of the destruction, the four main characters soon discover that the presence of the aliens can be detected by paying attention to light sources, which illuminate when the creatures pass through an area. They use this knowledge to try and survive while attempting to gather any information they can about the scope of the disaster outside the confines of the city, which has been cut off from the rest of the world.

One of the fun things about this project for me was I wanted to latch the story to the perspective of the characters,” said Gorak. “So as they learn, we learn as an audience. So as they find a nugget of information – what happened over there, who’s safe over here, or whatever – we learn it too.

According to Gorak, the film’s sensibility can best be described this way: “I kind of looked at the monster movies,” he said. “[Like] ‘Jaws’. You know, that kind of unseen enemy is what we have in the film. And then the journey through the empty world. You know, ’28 Days Later’. Another great, fresh take on the zombie movie, where it just had an epic quality to it…those two movies I can point to and say…[this is] ‘Jaws’ [meets] ’28 Days Later’ with aliens!

As for designing the look of the creatures, whose true forms are revealed sometime in the third act of the movie, Gorak admitted making them unique presented something of a challenge: “To do creature creation or alien creation, it’s a difficult design challenge,” he said. “And we went [through] endless iterations of design to get there. One thing I realize is, as humans we see something and right away we want to categorize it. So ‘oh, that’s cool, but it looks like a bug’…’that’s cool, but it looks like a cat.’ You know, like our brains want to put it into a box. So [to] come up with something fresh that hasn’t been in another movie, and then doesn’t remind you of something, becomes this really incredible challenge. But I think one thing we had going for us is the alien has these powers based in physics. So we kind of reverse-engineered from there. So it’s made up of wave energy and shreds people and has these electrical tendrils [to grab hold of its prey]. So backing up from there, what creature would create that?

Unusual for a 3D film, Gorak said ‘The Darkest Hour’ will also feature quite a bit of hand-held camera work: “We wanted to tell our gritty, down and dirty, hand-held movie in 3D,” he said, while also pointing to the fact that they use quite a bit of more static, classically-composed cinematography as well. “There is as much [hand-held] as we could do with the cameras not breaking.

“The Darkest Hour” will be released by Summit Entertainment on December 23rd. Stay tuned here for more updates.