Serious, diverting, silly, uncomfortable, educational, touching…whatever it is, a movie should provide an experience that makes it worth setting aside 90-plus minutes and hard-earned dollars for it. The Darkest Hour is one of those films that lies so far on the fringes of what movies should be that I am actually mad that it exists. This is possibly the most joy-sucking film of 2011.
This should have been great counter-programming to all the awards-season fodder packing cineplexes this time of year. It's a science-fiction tale set in Russia, where aliens show up to do what aliens do best, which is take over our weak Earth society and blow holes in the walls of dark, sexy nightclubs. I came in wanting to see girls in shimmery tops sliding around in spilled Cosmopolitans while their idiot boyfriends with bad haircuts get incinerated in 3D. Sadly, I left a broken woman, because I had unknowingly bought a ticket to see the unofficial sequel to Skyline, minus the decent effects.
Imagine someone handing art director-turned-director Chris Gorak a copy of Into the Wild and saying, "You know this kid Emile Hirsch? He's really interesting when you let him talk crazy talk and convince people and cats to wear light bulbs around their necks. Also, as an art director, I'm sure you'll appreciate a movie where occasionally visible big gold blobs of light are the bad guys. Shall we do this?" And Gorak said yes, and let Hirsch's eyes shine with madness while he flaps his jaw, which is the only flicker of hope in the entire film. The rest of it is just a shapeless mess of all the lamest parts of other alien invasion flicks. All the character archetypes are there, although it seems like this movie puts effort into not giving them any kind of humanity or interesting qualities. Even when the invisible aliens are finally revealed, they just seem like really cranky, unimpressive time-turners from Harry Potter.
(Spoilers follow) There are moments that seem like tiny messages from this movie in an alternate universe, where it was actually interesting and fun to watch. I think someone in the costume department was putting in an honest effort when they outfitted one Russian vigilante with a vest made entirely of keys--well, either that or they found something cool in their grandmother's basement last minute. And when Max Minghella, possibly the main character of the film, eats it while saving a young girl's life, that would have been tragic and memorable in the bizarro-world version. Here, it's just another piece of evidence that helps lock in the verdict that you just wasted time and inflated 3D ticket prices for a whole lotta nothin'.