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The Darkest Hour Review: The Cinematic Equivalent Of A Hot Pocket

By TK Burton | Film | December 27, 2011 |

By TK Burton | Film | December 27, 2011 |

Here’s the thing: The Darkest Hour is an exercise in frustration. It’s got a decent enough premise — two young Americans, Sean (Emile Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella) travel to Moscow to broker a business deal about a new social networking program they’ve created. There, they meet two girls — Natalie (Olivia Thirlby) and Anne (Rachael Taylor). They have a vodka-fueled night at a nightclub, and in the midst of it, there is a total power outage… and then aliens attack. Only these aren’t your conventional aliens. They appear to be invisible, energy-based lifeforms that swarm over the planet, disintegrating everything they touch and immune to conventional weapons. The only way to track them is that when they come close to electrical devices, there’s a brief flutter of electrical charge and a shimmer in the air. From there on it’s a fight for survival as they try to find sanctuary and seek a way to fight back.

It’s an interesting concept, and a relatively original one at that. The problem is that writer John Spaihts and director Chris Gorak don’t have much more than that basic premise, and clearly they have no clue where to take it. So instead of exploring the idea and developing it competently, they resort to lame storytelling, thinner-than-wet-paper characters, and staggeringly bad science. It’s bland, boring, and completely forgettable. The Darkest Hour isn’t a movie, it’s a sad, uninspired pastiche of sci-fi cliche surrounded by a dull, messy melange of lazy storytelling.

It’s a fucking Hot Pocket.

You’ve likely had a Hot Pocket at some point in your life. Here’s the thing: they’re not terrible. They’re fast, easy to make, and yes, they probably provide some very basic sustenance. But they’re also kind of tasteless and utterly forgettable. Sure, Hot Pockets come in many different flavors, some more fancy-sounding than others, with different kinds of crusts and wrappings. Hot Pockets aren’t so much food as much as they’re food-flavored. Of course, what you’ve really got is a bland sack made of wet toast wrapped around a hobo’s stew of what only the most generous of people would call meat and cheese. At the end of the day, you’re eating them because you’re too lazy to find anything better and because you simply don’t give enough of a shit to make something more palatable.

That’s The Darkest Hour in a nut pastry shell. It’s the lowest of the low kind of science fiction entertainment, a stumbling crawl away from being a SyFy original. It looks and sounds vaguely like a movie, but it’s really not. It’s got no panache to it, nothing to keep your interest, and ultimately, nothing to make it memorable. There’s no character development at all — in fact, at a brisk 89 minutes, there’s barely time for them to establish the character’s names, let alone a backstory. Given the talent of the players involved, it’s unbelievably aggravating that they’re not given anything to do other than run, argue, cry and yell. We know that Sean’s a carefree, lackadaisical slacker because Ben basically calls him one. We know that Ben’s smarter and more steady because Sean says so. As for Natalie and Anne, we might have just called them “shrieking girl” and “sniveling girl” because that’s really the only purpose they serve. They’re the mushy, unidentifiable filling in this soggy, lukewarm shell of a film.

The story is ridiculously banal, paint-by-numbers crap that’s part Red Dawn, part “V”, and part oh my god it was so boring I wanted to take a nap. Along the way, the foursome encounter various stock characters, including a reclusive, eccentric inventor who happens to be brilliant enough to both design and build a weapon in his apartment that can stop the creatures (in about four days, no less), as well as a plucky young girl and a group of tough Russian militia men headed by guys named Boris and Yuri (inventive!). Everyone is helpful and clever, except when they’re fucking stupid and reckless — running across fields of fire, stumbling as they run backwards, yelling when they should be whispering and whispering when they should be shutting the fuck up. There’s no genuine cleverness to any of their near-miss encounters — chalk it all up to dumb luck, insane coincidence and completely uninspired writing. They run from shopping mall to apartment complex to subway tunnel, all with a ragged sense of purpose born out of radical conclusions reached with no logic or rationale.

The film’s saving grace is its cinematography and its special effects, though both are ultimately squandered. The Russian setting provides a new and relatively interesting locale to get blown to bits, and footage like crashed airplanes and destroyed bridges make for some striking dichotomies amid the mix of modern and Soviet architecture. At the same time, the light and energy effects for the aliens is genuinely intriguing at first, except that there’s never any deviation from what you see in the first fifteen minutes. There are flickers of light and bouncing, fey-like energy wisps, electrified tendrils that seek out victims, and the cleverly rendered disintegration effects, but really not much more than that. Essentially, the set design and effects are a fancy dipping sauce that you use to try to make yourself think that you’re not eating food that shouldn’t be even be fed to convicts. As for the science behind the aliens, it’s purposefully and brutally inconsistent, designed to give some clever theories that are promptly ignored when necessary. It’s rife with illogical technology and the most basic example is the critically important, fundamental premise: if the aliens can make the entire planet go completely dark, why do they set off electricity when they’re closeby?

The Darkest Hour is bad, but not memorably so, and I’m fairly certain that by the time I type the final key of this review, it’ll already have begun to erode itself from my poor, mistreated hippocampus. It was released on Christmas Day, which is the saddest part of my comparison of all. Sitting in a dark theater on Christmas watching this is an incredibly depressing thought… the only vision it brings to mind is of a lone person without friends or family, sitting in a dimly-lit room on the greatest of holidays, with nothing to eat but a squishy, kind of damp, baby-shoe sized, pathetic excuse for a pastry filled with what a rancid, emulsified meat ‘n’ cheese flavored oatmeal. That’s my best analogy for The Darkest Hour, and if you had the misfortune of seeing it, well, take comfort because like that goddamn Hot Pocket, you’ll forget about it soon enough.

TK Burton is an Editorial Consultant. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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