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The Darkest Hour

December 25, 2011
The Darkest Hour

Say what you will about Timur Bekmambetov, the man has an eye for a premise. In his latest production he backs Chris Gorak’s direction of The Darkest Hour. At heart it’s another ragtag-survival alien invasion flick like Battle: Los Angeles or Skyline, but it’s so much more original than the usual “big strong things with blasters” motif.

Sean (Emile Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella) are software developers hawking a service like Foursquare but focusing on hot bars and clubs. They fly into Moscow to sell a partnership, only to find they’ve been headed off by a Swedish developer, Skyler (Joel Kinnaman), to whom they were foolish enough not to send a non-disclosure agreement. Their celebration becomes a wake, though they do meet up with a couple attractive young women — Natalie (Olivia Thirlby) and Anne (Rachael Taylor) — at a club near Red Square. And they even run into Skyler before the power goes out.

Outside, everyone watches as glowing orange filaments fall from the sky. A policeman approaches one, only to be sucked in and disintegrated. A panic ensues, and the five named characters manage to escape by hiding out in the club’s basement storeroom for a while. They emerge into a deserted city with scattered ashes blowing in the wind. They work out that the invisible invaders not only disable electric devices, but they disruptively activate circuits like light bulbs when passing near, and they can sense people by the electric signals of their nervous systems.

The group manage to hook up with other survivors. Vika (Veronika Ozerova) is a resourceful teenager, while Sergei (Dato Bakhtadze) is a great Russian bear of an electrician who has turned his apartment into a Faraday cage and rigged up a microwave gun that might be useful against the invaders. And here I have to make a point: I may be able to poke holes in the way a Faraday cage would actually work versus the way they portray it, but just using the term “Faraday cage” is a lot more effort than most science fiction thrillers put in. I have to respect that.

With Vika’s and Sergei’s help, they find out that there’s a nuclear submarine waiting in the Moscow river to pick up survivors and rendzvous with other subs from around the world. But it leaves the next morning, and so they must hurry across a city overrun by powerful invisible enemies to reach safety.

Look, this is not the smartest film out this holiday season. The acting and the dialogue can be pretty unbelievable at times. Honestly, a bunch of Americans never pronouncing “Moscow” to rhyme with “cow”? But at least it tries to be a little more coherent than just an excuse strung between set-pieces.

And it looks fantastic. Bekmambetov surely brought his own eye as a producer, but Gorak is no visual slouch himself, having served as art director for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fight Club, and The Man Who Wasn’t There, and having written and directed Right at Your Door. Post-apocalyptic Moscow is striking, full of deconstructed constructivist architecture, and Gorak makes the invaders’ orange glow more sinister than the buildings’ grey stone, not to mention the scenes shot from the invaders’ point of “view”.

If you’re looking for some intellectually undemanding eye candy you can do a lot worse than this movie. As is made even clearer by what seems to have been the original title, judging by the Cyrillic version of the opening credits — Phantom — it’s a sci-fi thriller in the best B-movie tradition.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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