The Darkest Hour: Film Review

The Darkest Hour Still P 2011
Summit Entertainment
Russia-set invasion of electricity-sucking aliens has no juice.

Chris Gorak's apocalyptic feature stars Emile Hirsch and Olivia Thirlby.

Apocalyptic fantasy goes to Russia in The Darkest Hour, an alien invasion flick that evidently expects dramatic shots of a depopulated Red Square to make up for a flatlining screenplay and the absence of even a single compelling character. Some diverting effects work and a puzzling (if badly developed) premise may keep audiences from throwing in the towel, but ho-hum word-of-mouth should lead to quickly fizzling box office.

VIDEO: 'The Darkest Hour' Trailer

After his intriguing twist on biohazard drama in 2006's Right at Your Door, director Chris Gorak is slavishly obedient to genre expectations here, finding no way to enliven a by-the-numbers survival tale. (Here's hoping Darkest Hour is no indication of what we can expect from screenwriter Jon Spaihts's next credit, the Alien spinoff Prometheus.)

American buddies played by Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella are hitting on two tourists (Olivia Thirlby and Rachael Taylor) when a blackout strikes Moscow. Countless small, effervescent clouds descend from the sky, soaking up all electricity and vaporizing any biological entity they can find.

After waiting out the invasion's first stage in a storeroom, the quartet (and a craven hanger-on) decide to head for the American embassy. Though the invaders are invisible except when attacking and make no sound, the kids manage some implausibly astute deductions about how they operate: the vaporous creatures can't sense humans through glass (huh?), and whenever they're nearby, electrical devices spring to life. (The latter fact allows for some nice visual cues involving lightbulb-strewn battlegrounds.)

For one brief sequence, this silliness almost comes to life: Our heroes meet a grizzled, pot-bellied tinkerer who has turned his apartment into a Faraday cage, protecting himself from electro-sensitive aliens while perfecting a microwave raygun he thinks will make them vulnerable. As the inventor, Dato Bakhtadze promises to enliven a wooden ensemble (whose capable young actors have nothing to work with, scriptwise), but the film dispenses with him minutes after his arrival.

PHOTO: 'The Darkest Hour' One-Sheet Promises Holiday Destruction

Producer Timur Bekmambetov, who created the nonsensical but stylistically imaginative supernatural epics Night Watch and Day Watch, might be expected to bring the film some homebrew quirks, or at least a convincing grime. But outside of Bakhtadze's lair and the funny conductive armor worn by a small band of Russian military survivors (the leader wears chainmail made of stitched-together housekeys), the picture suffers from an oppressive ordinariness. Action beats grow more effective as the short tale nears its climax -- though Hirsch's sudden insights into electrical engineering are tough to swallow -- but any goodwill evaporates with a shrugworthy denouement, in which a twentysomething's ability to receive text messages is proffered as cause for celebration.