-Review by Paul Ewbank-
Originally I was going to include this bad boy in a list of my top 5 alien invasion type films, but I figured that Darkest Hour is interesting and obscure enough to warrant an article in its own right. Plus I couldn’t think of a number 5. It’s pretty much your standard ‘normal guys trapped in city with bad shizzle going down’ premise, but it’s done well and there’s enough originality in the nature of that bad shizzle to make it a thoroughly enjoyable film.
Two American young entrepreneurs, their backstabbing Swedish business partner and two attractive female tourists all walk into a club in Moscow. Power is cut. They go outside and witness some strange aurora like fluttering of light falling to the ground. One of them lands near the club and a nervous policeman attempts to figure out what it is while the crowd watches nervously. It would be here in most films of this ilk where the monster/alien/robot/whatever reveals itself and begins to run amok. Here, it doesn’t. That’s the USP of Darkest Hour: the alien invaders are totally invisible. All you see is an occasional flutter of energy as the things tear through Moscow, grinding people to a fine grey dust. It’s a very clever idea and it makes the ‘first contact’ scene incredibly manic. The whole concept of not seeing the monster, only the effects of its rampage is a fairly standard trope in horror and many a decent film has been built around the constantly spiralling tension it builds (Jaws and more recently Cloverfield) but it’s never been done quite like this. Seeing people hiding in ruins or running for their lives with nothing apparently chasing them is enjoyably jarring, and the unique threat posed by these aliens allows Darkest Hour to have a distinctive look and feel in a genre where so many films are indistinguishable. These aliens are surrounded by impenetrable electrical fields which activate any electrical lights they move past, so travelling at night is actually safer since street lights activating gives early warning. There are lots of long, sweeping shots of the guys running through vast open cityscapes and none of the close up shaky-camera work that typifies a lot of post-Bourne action scenes. Near the end of the film we meet a bunch of insanely badass Russian soldiers wearing platemail armour (one of them is even riding a horse) and begin to discover the secrets to how to combat the invaders. The final action scenes are just fantastic and once you actually get to see the monsters they’re just as menacing as when you couldn’t.
As you’ve probably guessed, the plot of Darkest Hour is pretty much exactly what you expect it to be. But that’s not always a bad thing- clever film makers can use conventions and audience expectations as a shorthand way of getting the boring details out of the way and getting straight to the fun (Why do you think Avatar has such a standard plot if not to let you focus entirely on the awesome visuals and not worry about following a complex story?), and that’s what we get in Darkest Hour. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t work so well for the characters. There’s not one interesting person in the whole damn bunch, and instead of just filling the space on screen they become rather annoying. The aforementioned Swede is the archetypal spanner in the works plot device and he’s so irritating as to be ridiculous, but he does at least have one moment when, reflecting on how he left one of his friends to die, he shows some genuinely unexpected emotion. Still, moments of development or emotional resonance are few and far between and it really lets the film down. Even so, Darkest Hour is a great film- it took an absolute panning from the critics, but as a genre film it really delivers. The hook allows for a tense, unique premise and a much more professional look than most of these lower budget films manage to achieve. Not perfect by any means, but totally entertaining for the entirety of its run time, and that’s the first time I can say that of a modern sci-fi film in quite a while.
(Also, if anyone can think of some other cool alien invasion films, post them in the comments!)