Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Darkest Hour (2011)

Title: The Darkest Hour (2011)

Director: Chris Gorak

Cast: Emile Hirsch, Max Minghella, Olivia Thirlby, Rachel Taylor          


The Darkest Hour is the kind of film I watch for amusement purposes only. Going into it I knew it wasn’t going to be the most thought provoking, deepest or smartest film I’d ever seen, I’d read a couple of reviews, I had a general idea of the kind of movie I could expect. But still, Im a sucker for sci-fi and an even bigger sucker for post apocalyptic films, so I decided to give this one a watch. At the very least I expected a brisk, fast paced flick with cool effects and some action.  If you ask me, The Darkest Hour is an empty film every step of the way, as most alien invasion films are. The formula behind these movies is simple: monsters appear, humans run, humans find a way to kill the creatures, humans fight back, monsters die and for all intents and purposes, this is exactly the kind of film The Darkest Hour is. But a film can stick to this formula and still entertain, the question remained, would The Darkest Hour at least do that?

In The Darkest Hour we meet a pair of computer programmers that have just created the newest website that’s apparently going to take over the world. They’ve presented their idea to a group of Russian businessmen and are ready for their first official meeting. Problem is that once they get there they find out they are no longer needed, some douche bag stole their idea and is now presenting it as his own. So as they ponder how to counter attack this humongous backstabbing, they decide to go out on a drinking spree, to see if they can hook up with some Russian girls. Low and behold they end up hooking up with a pair of American girls! Things are looking up until suddenly these strange yellow lights start dropping from the heavens! Upon closer examination they learn that these strange lights are actually energy absorbing aliens! They turn humans into ashes and they mean to invade our planet!

So yeah, nothing really new here; basically, if you’ve seen films like Independence Day (1996) and Skyline (2010), then you’ve seen The Darkest Hour. The ‘new’ element that the film brings to the table is that it was shot entirely in Russia, which instantly gives the film a unique look, especially when it comes to the Russian architecture. Another unique thing it has going for it is the concept of the aliens being invisible to the naked eye. I thought this was a nifty concept that adds a bit of suspense to the proceedings because you’re never really sure where the aliens might be coming from, at the same time the invisible aliens concept might also seem like a good way for filmmakers to save some money! I can hear the sales pitch to the producers: “and we don’t even have to build no alien suits! ‘Cause get this: the aliens are invisible!” Either way, I thought it added an interesting element in a film filled with overused ideas. I also liked the fact that the aliens activate anything with electrical parts in it, so if the aliens pass next to a light bulb, it turns on, if they walk past a car, the car turns on and so forth. Another cool element…unfortunately, that’s as far as we go in terms of originality with this movie.

And speaking of the aliens, this is where I met my first real disappointment with this film. And it’s sad really because this film could have been so much better had they put a bit more of an effort with the look of the aliens. Here’s what happens with this movie: it might be walking on tired ground, and showing us situations and premises we’ve seen a gazillion times before, but it looks good, it was well shot and it has a likable bunch of characters. Hell, at least it’s not like Skyline, a film populated by a bunch of douche bags. So anyways, The Darkest Hour is not a bad looking little movie, the cast is doing a respectable job, the film even made me care for some of it’s characters! But then the aliens show how they look and you feel like you wished they had stayed invisible. Just imagine the cheapest, crappiest computer animation you could think of, and amplify it by ten. I seriously don’t understand how this director let this alien design slip by him. I thinking it was a last minute thing, a rushed job, apparently, they had no time to do something worth watching.

A pity too since I found myself mildly enjoying the flick, and to be honest, it’s not a completely horrible movie it’s just that it has a couple of hiccups here and there that scream lazy. For example, this old man that the kids meet is a genius and he’s devised a way to kill the aliens with this microwave gun he’s invented. The thing probably took the old man months to make, and he hands it to these kids so they can fight the aliens. So anyhow, at one moment the good guys figure they need another gun to fight the aliens with, so what do they do? They build an exact replica of it in something like five minutes! I was like what?? There’s lot’s of inconsistencies like that one…things that simply take you out of the movie. You’ll be asking yourself why? How? I’ll tell you why and how, lazy filmmaking! So let’s see, plot holes galore, nonsensical happenings, and a tired plot, damn, there’s many things against this one, I recommend this one only for those with a stomach for b-movies (like me) who don’t mind so many inconsistencies and are forgiving with their bad movies. I call it for what it is, but still found some enjoyment with The Darkest Hour, even if I did feel like I’d seen this flick a million times.

So this flick was directed by a guy called Chris Gorak, he’d directed only one other film before and it was another post-apocalyptic film called Right At Your Door (2006) which I started watching once but had no time to continue. I will try and re-watch it again soon, especially since I’m on a post apocalyptic kick these days. Thing about Mr. Gorak is that he’s worked with a lot of famous directors like Terry Gilliam and David Fincher, but on a technical level; as art director and production designer. Gorak has done all sorts of jobs in all kinds of films and well; I guess he decided to put all that experience to good use directing his own film. With The Darkest Hour he finally got his chance to direct a theatrical release, unfortunately, in my opinion, Mr. Gorak still has a ways to go in terms of learning what makes a good film work. Making things believable even within your fantastical context is a good way to start. Also, trying to go for a bit more originality. As it is this feels like a low budget version of Independence Day. I can watch aliens falling from the sky, but if you show it in a believable fashion I’ll believe it. That’s the magic and illusion of movies anyways, making us believe the unbelievable. But if you give me these cheesy looking aliens, then your movie goes down a couple of notches, sorry dude!  

Rating 2 1/2 out of 5


Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

It sounds to me that your preconceived notions of what The Darkest Hour was going to be, colored your eventual opinion of the film itself, Francisco. We all have our preferences and personal biases, but when it comes to watching any of my preferred genres of film (i.e.: SF, Fantasy & Horror) I watch it in the hope that it will be a great or at least a good film. If I think a film will be l bad - or just not to my personal taste – I don’t waste my time and simply don’t watch it. Reading reviews is a tricky proposition for deciding on whether a film is good or not, because one reviewer’s “A” film can be another reviewer’s “D” film. Even reading reviews to decide if a film is something you might like is difficult, unless you’re familiar with the types of film that particular reviewer tends to like. I guess I’m a little surprised that you had already decided The Darkest Hour “wasn’t going to be the most though provoking, deepest or smartest film” based on other people’s opinions. In fact, if you had read my review at GotG you might have gotten the impression that The Darkest Hour was the best alien invasion movie ever! I did like it and rated it higher than you did, but I recognize that the film is not without its flaws.

I don’t think The Darkest Hour is anything like Independence Day, because the scale of Independence Day is so much grander. However, I’m glad you mention Skyline, because that is much closer in scale and subject matter to The Darkest Hour. I didn’t like Skyline at all, because as you say it is “populated by a bunch of douche bags” – although I might have been a bit more diplomatic and just called the characters unintelligent and unsympathetic. Because the characters are somewhat intelligent, moderately brave and mostly sympathetic, I feel The Darkest Hour is a much better film than most critics – yourself included – give it credit for. Half the battle of making a good alien invasion film is developing characters that you care about enough to want to see them survive the invasion and The Darkest Hour does that.

The design of the alien creatures didn’t bother me as much as they did you, in part, because you see so very little of them. Most of the time they are hidden behind their invisible force bubbles, so their physiology isn’t really an important factor in the film. I’ve watched the film twice and I honestly don’t recall them making a second microwave gun. If they had, I would have been puzzled as to how two computer software guys could whip up another gun on short notice too. I don’t think calling The Darkest Hour unoriginal is a fair critique, because all genre films are formulaic by design. There are only about seven different basic plots and science fiction – particularly alien invasion films – all use the classic “overcoming the monster” plot. At best, they use the basic good vs. evil plot that every war movie ever made has used and I hardly think I’d use the unoriginal plot complaint on bad war movies either.

Like most alien invasion movies – and that includes the ones I like – I would have liked to see more of the aliens’ point-of-view, so that I could better understand the motivations for the most unrealistic aspect on any alien invasion film, which is: why travel hundreds or thousands of light-years in space to conquer a small planet for its relatively meager resources that you have to eradicate millions of intelligent and belligerent creatures to do, when there are most likely thousands of other uninhabited planets nearby (space-relative)? This one never ruins an alien invasion for me and most of The Darkest Hours’ other flaws didn’t ruined it for me either.

Franco Macabro said...

Hey Friz, I did have preconceived notions for this movie, the trailers made it more than obvious that this was going to be a very simple minded flick, it certainly didnt inspire much excitement from this movie buff! Sorry! The impression I got was that it was going to be an empty spectacle, one that I would give a chance later, on dvd.

Of course, as you mention we all give our own personal opinions about films, thats what it's all about, saying what you thought and felt, and thats all I'm doing with my reviews. I give every movie a fair shot at amazing me or at the very least entertain me, which I might add, The Darkest Hour did do, it had its moments. I liked the one where the bolt of energy is searching out one of the kids in the subway.

Actually, I believe I did read your review, which motivated me to rent it. I love sci-fi films, I got lots of affection and respect for sci-fi and horror films, because I love them so much, but I just thought this one was too simple, to clicheish. But even though it walks on tired ground, as I mentioned, it does have an original concept or two, like the idea of the aliens being invisible to the naked eye, or that they turned all mechanical things around them on.

I do read reviews from all over the place, but ultimately, that doesnt affect how I feel about a film, I know how I feel, and thats what I type. I'm not one to follow common opinion, I follow my own. If a movie is freaking awesome, I'll say it, if it's not I'll give my reasons.


Franco Macabro said...

I think I had every right to compare The Darkest Hour to Independence Day because it is an alien invasion flick, they both have the same basic premise, and they are both about a group of good guys trying to find a way to kill the seemingly indestructible aliens. I did make a note of saying that it was a low budget version of it, meaning, it's obviously smaller in scale. Independence Day was a huge film while The Dakest Hour was a relatively smaller production.

I never reviewed Skyline, I should have, and hey, maybe I will soon, when I go Sci-Fi, coming soon peeps! Keep your eyes peeled for that! By the way, a collaboration wouldnt be out of the picture! Wink, wink. He he...anyhows, yeah, Skyline is similar in scale. But I liked that one a bit better than The Darkest Hour, I think it was because the monsters where actually pretty cool, which is something The Darkest Hour should have tried a whole harder to do. See what I mean about going against the grain, most people actually hated that one, I thought it was fun, minus the unsympathetic characters of course.

Actually, they do make a second gun dude, check it out again!

Speaking about The Darkest Hour and it's formulaic nature? I mean, I would think thats as clear as day, you say it yourself, the genre is naturally formulaic, which means its naturally repetitive...and that means redundant, and that means its the same old schtick all over again. I know this about the genre, the repetitive nature of the genre does not bother me so much as long as it throws in something cool looking or moving, or thought provoking, or emotional. At the very least cool freaking monsters, which by the way where nowhere in this movie and the glimpse we got of them was a cheap cop out of an effect, you can't really cover the sky with your hands on that one. The effects for the aliens, were low grade and thats kind of inexcusable for me in a moderately budgeted picture like this one. The millions where there, why werent they used properly on the films most important effects? Why would a director especially one with as much experience in the behind the scenes aspects of filmmaking as Gorak is, let that slip by him? He must have known it was going to bring the film down.

I see what you mean about seeing things from the aliens perspective, most of the time, the invasion is one sided, we never really see the monsters, first of all they are invisible, and second of all, we know nothing of them. The directors might have done this to make them more enigmatic and evil, or so they could have more things to reveal in a possible sequel, which was hinted at by the way the film ends.

I didn't hate this film, as I mentioned on my review, I even felt for some of the characters, like the American girl named Natalie played by Olivia Thirlby.

Thanks for your comment Fritz! Love replies like that, you know, a real film discussion.

Unknown said...

My only real problem was I felt the pacing was way to slow. You should finish Right at Your Door though, I thought it was one of the best films of '06.

Franco Macabro said...

Really? Cool cause the only reason why I never finished it was because I had to return to the video store...but I will be checking it out and posting a review for it soon! The post apocalyptic blog-a-thon aint over yet! Thanks for your suggestion JP.

rbk said...

Hated this movie. And unlike yourself, I hated these characters from the get-go. I think that like you I went in knowing it was going to suck but hoping it would exceed my low expectations because after all, I too am a sucker for sci-fi and pa is my favorite sub-genre. But even granting a lot of latitude this one was awful.

And I have to echo what JP said, I can nitpick this and that because it has some problems but Right at your Door is worth a watch. Very underrated.

Franco Macabro said...

Gonna see Right at your Door this week for sure! Thanks!


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