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Early in THE DARKEST HOUR, best friends Sean (Emile Hirsch)
and Ben (Max Minghella), newly arrived in Russia, discuss the possibility of
hooking up with a cute American girl in a local bar. Scoffs Sean, “I could get
that at Applebee’s”; clearly he welcomes exoticism, surprise and variety. The
same could presumably be said for audiences watching a movie set and filmed on
location in a city as unique as Moscow, but everything that happens in THE
DARKEST HOUR is…well, let’s just say you could get that at Applebee’s.
Sean and Ben are in Russia to close the deal for a
party-spot app they’ve created, only to find that their alleged business
partner Skyler (Joel Kinnaman) has ripped them off. They’ve apparently put a
lot of effort into their project but done nothing to protect their intellectual
property, which makes them very stupid, and thus unlikely candidates to survive
a catastrophic alien invasion. But survive it they do, along with
aforementioned American girl Natalie (Olivia Thirlby), her Aussie pal Anne
(Rachael Taylor) and Skyler, whom the boys shepherd into their hiding place
despite not only his having cheated them, but having witnessed him pulling a
serious dick move on his date in the midst of the chaos.
To backtrack a bit: the extraterrestrials first descend from
the night sky looking like something you might hang on a Christmas tree, or
distant cousins of the falling fireballs in the similar, far superior ATTACK
THE BLOCK, before turning invisible and wiping out their panicked human prey.
(Question: Why don’t they make themselves invisible before they descend?
Wouldn’t that add an element of surprise to their attack?) Though we and the
characters can rarely see the invaders, we sometimes see what they see, i.e.
the usual filtered point-of-view shots resembling those of a TSA airport
screener, though the victims in THE DARKEST HOUR are subjected to much worse
than an inappropriate pat-down. The aliens’ preferred mode of
deathdealing—violently reducing people to ashes—looks cool, but has been pretty
well given away by all the trailers and TV spots.
Anyway, our fivesome hole up in their basement sanctuary for
close to a week, a period swiftly dealt with in a quick montage that appears to
have condensed all the scenes where the character development went. As they
emerge onto the streets and seek safety, the youths remain ciphers running
through a plot that doesn’t much warrant further recounting, though it
certainly wouldn’t take very long. Essentially, they run from one brief safe
haven to another, through a Moscow used for little more than picture-postcard
backdrops, trading dialogue consisting alternately of pseudoscientific
speculations on the nature of the aliens and how they might be defeated, and
variations on “Come on, this way!” They do run into a few local survivors, but
their foreignness isn’t very meaningful given that they either speak English or
there’s someone there to translate for them, and their Russian dialogue is
helpfully subtitled for us the viewers. Throughout, the 3D doesn’t register too
strongly since so much of the film is set in dimly lit environments; the
dimensional highlight is the eye-catching opening-titles sequence.
Director Chris Gorak previously made the well-regarded,
similarly themed though smaller-scaled RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR, which I haven’t seen
but still want to, and the screenplay is by Jon Spaihts, who also wrote (uh-oh)
Ridley Scott’s much-anticipated PROMETHEUS. To be fair, given that this is yet
another film that seems to have left large chunks on the cutting-room floor (it
runs just 89 minutes, of which around 10 are devoted to opening and closing
credits), we might not be able to truly judge their work until a potential
extended director’s cut appears on disc. This may also allow us to better
appreciate the actors, who certainly aren’t seen to their best advantage here.
Particularly ill-served is Thirlby, such a fresh, appealing presence in other
movies, here stuck playing a girl who, after being knocked off a boat with her
friends, doesn’t follow them in swimming to safety but instead climbs onto land
and flees half a mile into hostile territory. She’s also the recipient of a
text message that’s THE DARKEST HOUR’s biggest howler, one that’s almost worth
sitting through the movie for…almost.
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