Up Yours, Invisible Monster!
Granted I wasn't expecting a great deal from The Darkest Hour, where the trailers have probably spelt out the entire film from beginning to end, and more than validated it to be nothing but a special effects extravaganza. Then again, what you have already seen is it, as The Darkest Hour indeed is the darkest in terms of filmmaking, having nothing else served up to excite nor to thrill, sticking to what would be a rote storyline packaged hundreds of times over.
The selling point of the film is of course Timur Bekmambetov's name on the credits, a filmmaker who had made everyone sit up and take notice of his inventive, stylish science fiction films out of Russia - Night Watch and Day Watch - that Hollywood had come wooing, and from then on it's either producer creds to help boost some languishing production, or allowing the filmmaker to helm his own like in Wanted. Not everything he touches turns to gold of course, and sadly The Darkest Hour boasted what could have been something he could have done, but ultimately falling very flat on its face because of the lack of freshness in its story, written by Leslie Bohem, M.T. Ahem and Jon Spaihts, who also had screenplay responsibilities.
The premise is as bland as you can get, and frankly can work in any other major city if not for the exoticness of Moscow, and Bekmambetov's connection of course. The characters too can be anyone other than the software engineering duo Sean (Emile Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella) who flew halfway across the world to find out they were outplayed by their Swedish competitor Skyler (Joel Kinnaman), and two holidaying teenage girls Natalie (Olivia Thirlby) and Anne (Rachael Taylor), who all got together in a hip pub, only for what could have led to respective one night stands interrupted by a parade of lights falling from the sky, which from the trailer you will know contain some mean, invisible aliens out to annihilate all of humankind for our energy.
Yes you read that right, invisible aliens. They have this innate ability to light up bulbs activate anything that's run by electricity, since it's a signature they carry, before being allowed to reveal something extra in the final few scenes. Sure, something invisible would work in playing up our fears, but the way director Chris Gorak did it, his inexperience shows. Similar genre films like Attack The Block built anticipation nicely, but here we get nothing of that sort of emotional engagement, as it teases through elements that suggest vulnerability and chinks in the adversary's armour, force fields of sorts that are entirely resistant to whatever arsenal us humans can throw at it, if we can get to realize their positions first.
The plot could have been written by any newbie hack sent packing home to watch countless of alien invasion and monster movies, to be able to come up with something that's really quite plain and lacking true suspense. In some ways it's like an amalgamation of science fiction films from I am Legend to other contemporary alien invasion type movies, except that we don't give a hoot too much for the characters involved here, so much so that the filmmakers have the audacity and courage to ensure equal opportunity to become alien fodder, which is a rarity.
Effects wise, this two trick pony will soon wear out its novelty, the first of which is the way the aliens turn humans and all living creatures into swirling dust upon contact, and the second of which is an electrical whip-like probe that goes feeling around for lifeforms. Nothing terribly original here, and after a while these limited bag of tricks do become a little stale. As for its 3D presentation, there's only depth of field, getting human dust falling all over, as well as having exploding debris hurtle toward the screen. Some large scale effects like collapsing walls and huge probes to siphon Earth's resources still looked a little bit raw,
Perhaps then if you're looking for any sliver of merit to watch this, it will be for the on-location shoots in Russia, as well as having this film mark what would be a rare treat at having Russian soldiers/mercenaries in action up against the enemy compared to the usual US led war machinery in any alien invasion film, and this one also marking a USA-Russia collaboration amongst survivors in this post-cold war era. But you need not have to look that deep into this film, because it's indeed a struggle to find something unique and of narrative quality, failing which The Darkest Hour is only at best a mediocre film that offers nothing new.