Just when Hollywood was rediscovering that elusive thing called originality, Chris Gorak made The Darkest Hour, the box office bomb of 2011. The film follows five young people as they fight off clouds of fairy dust — sorry, aliens — that have come to strip-mine Earth’s conductive minerals. It’s a film that suffers from a serious identity crisis: it can’t decide whether to be survival horror, sci-fi or laugh-out-loud comedy.
Gorak has at least attempted to give this particular alien invasion some edge. He’s done this by using wispy CGI, employing a few non-American cast members, and setting the film in Moscow rather than on the streets of Manhattan. His attempt to be ‘different’, however, is ruined by the soul-crushingly dreadful characters. American hotshots Sean and Ben are in Moscow to make million, get drunk and get laid. Of course, those lousy Muscovites double-cross them within ten minutes. “It’s criminal!” cries Ben (or is it Sean?) when the Russians steal his business plans. “Welcome to Moscow,” is the cold reply. Other than a quick remark about Cyrillic and some foreign-language background music, the only real clues that we’re in Russia are glimpses of the Kremlin, characters named Yuri and Boris, and the odd bit of subtitled Russian. We might as well be in Manhattan.
If you can drag your brain through the first few scenes, The Darkest Hour presents you with its premise: glowing balls descending from the sky, evaporating humans and causing large-scale power cuts. Most of the time they’re invisible — a terrifying concept in theory — but when they come into contact with electrical devices, they turn into a disembodied head with tentacles. The “heroes” run from place to place, hammering them with machine guns and shrieking. It’s a refreshing break from the mother ship, and I can’t say I didn’t enjoy seeing the drippy characters reduced to cinders, but I struggle to call it horror. Or sci-fi, since the science is so slapdash. And while aliens have never been portrayed as yellow puffs, Gorak spoils a potentially interesting concept with an endless stream of clichés. The “aliens-turning-people-to-dust” thing has been milked to death since War of the Worlds, and having the aliens look like Windows screensavers makes it no more exciting than when the Martian tripods did it in 2005.
The film has some saving graces. The soundtrack is respectable, and Moscow makes for a vaguely more interesting place than New York for the characters to run, scream, hide and die. The cast do well with the roles they’ve been given; it’s the roles that are one-dimensional. In 89 minutes, we barely have time to learn the characters’ names, let alone understand them as people. And in the rare quiet moments they share, the dialogue is so utterly boring you have to wonder why Gorak bothered.
With its flat characters, lazy CGI and complete lack of tension, The Darkest Hour is not got all the makings of a direct-to-DVD sequel. Let’s just pray it doesn’t get one.