The Darkest Hour (and 29 minutes)

Thursday January 12th 2012

The one accusation most commonly levelled at films like Transformers is that they’re big on budget but light on ideas. This is indeed a serious problem facing mainstream action filmmaking today. Much worse, however, are films that fall short on both fronts. Speaking of which, The Darkest Hour is released nationwide this Thursday.

Produced by cult Kazakhstani director Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch) and made for a relatively modest $30million, the film is part of a growing horde of contemporary science fiction B-movies like Skyline and Battle: LA, all out to prove that you don’t need half a billion dollars and a megalomaniac Michael Bay type to make a serviceable action romp. Sadly, all The Darkest Hour really proves is Emile Hirsch’s need for a new agent.

Hirsch and Max Minghella (from The Social Network) star as a pair of headstrong American entrepreneurs travelling to Moscow to present their fledgling social network to European investors. Upon arrival, they discover that a hitherto agreeable business partner (played by Swedish star Joel Kinnaman) has gone rogue and created his own, superior version of the site. To be honest, you’d think Minghella would have seen it coming.

Taking solace in the company of two attractive but essentially superfluous female characters (including The Wackness‘s Olivia Thirlby) in a Russian club, the pair are all set to return home the following morning. Unfortunately for them, fate has other plans.

A flock of mysterious ‘energy beings’ promptly descend to Earth and though they’re invisible and therefore visually unimpressive, their ability to atomise human beings on contact makes them a serious threat to mankind. It’s quickly established that our heroes’ only hope of survival is to stay hidden during the day and explore the city by night, when they can be alerted to the energy beings’ presence by lit street lamps, blaring car alarms, etc. etc. etc. Basically wherever these things go, shit powers up. (Where are they when my iPhone dies on the night bus home, amiright?)

This ‘light is dangerous, darkness is safe’ conceit is a bold but interesting one in a genre that’s built on precisely the opposite theory. Sadly, The Darkest Hour‘s antagonists are far too vague a threat to really imbue any confidence in the idea, especially when it goes against hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary programming. And Paranormal Activity.

Eventually the team work out a way of fighting back at the extraterrestrials, using a ‘microwave gun’ to weaken their powers of invisibility and then shooting them when they become visible. A bit like how you get Mew in the final level of Pokémon Snap. This revelation leads to one of the most dreary, undramatic third acts in recent memory — notable only for its spectacularly high volume of plot holes. Still, even a decrease in tension is quite interesting compared to the relentless monotony of the rest of the film.

In short, The Darkest Hour might just give you newfound respect for Michael Bay. And that’s no mean feat considering that he’s really, really awful.