The Darkest Hour, while not awful or grating, is the kind of movie that you forget while walking out of the theatre. It’s gorgeous looking in parts, thanks to location shooting (when they take advantage of it) and mostly decent CGI, but there’s nothing else going for it. The story – which borrows from Predator and Red Dawn, among others – has zero scale, with action scenes that are as indistinguishable from each other as its stock characters. In that sense, Darkest Hour is pretty much the same fifteen minute short done over and over again for ninety minutes.
Ben (Max Minghella) and Sean (Emile Hirsch) are two social platform designers on their way to a business meeting in Moscow. When they reach the board room, their contact Skyler (Joel Kinnaman) has already sold the idea as his own, rendering them obsolete. With their proposal ripped right out from under them, they head down to a bar and try to make the most of their trip, striking up a conversation with Natalie (Olivia Thirlby) and Anne (Rachael Taylor), two English-speaking girls. The chance encounter seems like it’s on its way to making their trip one hundred times better when there’s a mass blackout, cell phone signals included. Venturing outside, the group sees golden electrical clouds making a descent towards the streets, which quickly start turning everyone they touch into ash.
Horrendous dialogue aside, the setup and energy cloud aliens are serviceable, but Jon Spaihts’ script doesn’t give any of the characters depth or something to do aside from scurry from locale to locale for the rest of the film. The group moves from bar to apartment to retail space trying to outrun their pursuers, with every new room looking like the one before it – the occasional exterior shot feels like it’s thrown in just to remind us that the characters are somewhere that has more to it than rundown urban areas. And once they get there, nothing unexpected happens; of course they run into the scumbag businessman that stole their idea and, of course, he “redeems” himself by luring the beings away from the group. This human antagonist is the most complex character out of the survivors because of this one act, with the others having no opposing personality traits. The main group is the same character, played by four different actors, making it hard to even care when one bites the dust, maybe even more so because they’re quickly replaced by some random survivor they bump into.
The Darkest Hour is such a safe sci-fi horror movie that, without the existence of Right At Your Door, one would think Chris Gorak is as milquetoast as they come. He takes zero chances in the director’s chair, with everything from the action scenes to performances being as bland as humanly possible. Even when an idea that could serve as the basis for an above average scene pops up, it’s like the entire cast and crew purposely sabotage it to make it as mundane as they can. Think that watching people get thrown through an invisible wood chipper and whipped with electric tentacles could never be boring? Planet Earth, you’ve met your match.
Summit Entertainment’s 1080p transfer is sharp looking, with absolutely no issues whatsoever. Blacks and grays make up most of the palate, but oranges – seen via “alien vision” – are the most vibrant. The Russian architecture looks stunning to say the least; every detail is captured. Shot on 3D cameras, it’s pretty obvious which shots were tailor-made for it, but there is a strong depth of field throughout. The highest praise I can give Darkest Hour is that it looks beautiful, and this codec definitely gives the film its due. The DTS-HD 5.1 track never disappoints, giving both the big set pieces and more intimate moments their time in the spotlight. A good chunk of the film deals with escapes and the main characters creeping around on empty streets, and the lossless tracks really gives a sense of the emptiness of the city with small, subtle noises; the sound of humans disintegrating is another highlight. Dialogue is always crisp and clear, and the score – and even the club scene – sound balanced.
Commentary – God bless director Chris Gorak, who spends the entire track convinced that The Darkest Hour is a deep, well-crafted piece of cinema, and not a throwaway action movie with good special effects and nothing else. He yammers about the actors and story a bit, but doesn’t say anything really interesting until he starts talking about shooting in 3D in Moscow, delaying production due to a natural disaster, and the effects. Some silent gaps and tangents aside, it’s a good technical track.
Survivors (8:09) – A short film that takes place in The Darkest Hour’s universe and works much better than its feature length counterpart. It follows other resistance groups as they fight back against the invaders, and even manages to tie into the feature’s finale.
Visualizing an Invasion (12:09) – A featurette detailing the film’s visual effects, which are its high point. They cover the creature design, shooting with tennis balls, conceptualization tests, the beings’ weapons, and even some stunt work. Everyone gets to chime in, including the actors, so it’s very well-rounded.
Deleted and Extended Scenes (4:48) – A collection of five deleted/extended scenes, with optional commentary with Gorak. None of them really bring anything new to the table, so it’s pretty obvious why they got cut.