April 9, 2012

Blu-ray Review: The Darkest Hour

At first glance, The Darkest Hour looks like it should be a fun genre outing. I know the trailer had me intrigued. Being a science fiction and horror fan, how cold I not? The concept of alien invaders here to wipe us out while a small group of survivors try to avoid certain death and perhaps find a way to fight back is certainly nothing new. The funny thing is that is sounds a lot like the much derided Skyline, which I enjoyed for what it was. In execution, this is much along the same lines, with perhaps some War of the Worlds (Spielberg edition) mixed in for good measure. Fortunately, the familiar can still quite enjoyable, so long as it tries to bring something fresh, or at least fun, to the table.

As the story begins, a couple of would be software developers arrive in Moscow hoping to sell their social networking creation. They find they have been double crossed by a rival fro Sweden. So, they go out to drown their sorrows at a nightclub where they meet a fellow American and her Brit friend, who happen to recognize them from their social networking website. They also find the Swede is at the same club, celebrating his ill-gotten gains. Before long they hear a ruckus outside. They all head outside to see these lights fall from the sky, land, and disappear

It turns out these lights are aliens with bad intentions. They have come to take our energy, but not before wiping out the majority of its population. Our world has been whittled down to a small group of survivors, comprised of the programmers, the ladies they meet, and the Swede. We follow them as they walk around and hide, run around and hide, and occasionally stop for some poorly executed exposition, you know, to make sure we get some idea of the story.

I don't know. I like the idea and the setup, but when I comes right down to it, this is a silly movie where logic does not belong. There is some terrible dialogue and scenes that defy explanation. They set up rules for the creatures but then break them, never really settling on what they are. There is also, the random, exposition heavy visit to Mr. Sergei, the Russian electrician in the Faraday cage, that just feels a little out of place. Still, I have to say the biggest stretch of believability is when they all get dumped in a river, later in the movie, only to find one of their own missing and when she turns up, she is pretty far inland and a god distance from the water. How that happened is a big head scratcher.

The Darkest Hour feels like a movie that ran into problems during the production. Perhaps rewrites, studio interventions, changes in what the movie was supposed to be, something, anything that helped mess with the resulting film. It is a shame too, there are some good ideas and images here, it just could have used more focus, more attention to detail, a stronger creative direction. It feels, at times, a little lackadaisical, almost like they shot the scene, shrugged their shoulders and moved on.

The movie was directed by Chris Gorak and is his second feature. His first film was Right at Your Door, a pretty solid thriller about a potential attack and the fallout from it. As for the cast, the top billed are Emile Hirsch, Max Minghella, Olivia Thirlby, and Rachel Taylor, none of whom fare all that well.

I guess on a certain level this is kind of fun. It could be viewed as a modern B movie. I mean, sure it is a B movie, but view it through an 80's perspective and it takes on a slightly different energy. I do not really recommend this to the unwilling, as it might just make it more sad. I just found myself sitting there looking for ways to improve the experience. In the end I can say that I liked it, but with big reservations.

This is one of those movies that could have been a lot more fun than it is. They could have rewritten it, tightened it up, and made a really good alien invasion film, or they could have embraced the inherent goofiness of the whole thing and taken a more do-it-yourself kind of approach. Of late, I have been lamenting the death of the B-movie as it used to exist in the 80's. I wonder what movies such as this would be like if they were shot for lot less money where the filmmakers are forced to be a bit more creative and less reliant on CG effects. I suspect this would have been a lot more enjoyable if the camp was embraced, this route would likely have brought up the energy level.

Instead, we get a movie that has more serious tone, resulting in a much more dour atmosphere. This could have been the American Attack the Block. Now there is a movie with a similar idea of an alien invasion and a small group of characters attempting to survive. The difference is that the British Attack the Block has fun with the idea, embraces some of the silliness, yet retains the frightening edge of the alien invasion and the idea of survival. At this point it is all a lot of what ifs.

Audio/Video. The movie is presented in a ratio of 2.35:1 and looks really good. While the story may leave wondering what is going on, you will always have something to look at on the screen. The Moscow location offers plenty to look at. The architecture is shot very well and there is some great detail at all levels from wide shots of empty streets to close ups of survivor faces, there is a lot to see. On top of that, the effects also look quite good and do pop on the screen with their flashes of color.

Audio is a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track and stands up well next to the fine detail of the video. There is nice sound immersion as the directional effects do make you feel like you are there. Dialogue is always clear and centered, and the sparse music helps build the atmosphere around our survivors. All things considered, this is a nicely rendered track.

  • Commentary. The track features director Chris Gorak. It is a good track where he discusses the story, cast, effects, shooting in 3D, and other elements of making the movie.
  • Survivors. A short film centering on those people trying to survive the invasion.
  • Visualizing an Invasion. This takes a look at the development of the effects and how they could make this concept work.
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes. A series of bits and versions of bits that did not make the final cut, also available with commentary.
BottomlineThe Darkest Hour is a movie full of good ideas and some good sequences. It may sound like I am down on the film, and in a way I am, but I still found enough material in here to enjoy. The B-movie fan in me looks at it sees a ridiculous romp with some lovely bits of nonsense, while the A-movie fan in me wishes they rewrote it a few more times. There is plenty to have fun with here.

Mildly Recommended.

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: The Darkest Hour (2011) on Blogcritics.

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