Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Darkest Hour - 2011

"The Darkest Hour" - 2011
Dir. by Chris Gorak - 1 hr. 29 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

Sometimes, I'm up for some brainless destruction and a kill-the-aliens movie.  There's a sort of perverse pleasure in watching Los Angeles (or wherever) get destroyed over and over again.  To reach the bar, all the movie really needs is to be loud, destroy stuff, and have cool-looking special effects.  No one sees these things for plot or character development, myself included.  So if you were going to include some sort of character development in a kill-the-aliens movie, it's pretty important that it doesn't detract from the more necessary elements.

So, what is relevant here?  A pair of American twenty-somethings are in Moscow for a business meeting.  Almost immediately, Sean (Emile Hirsch) is established as a self-absorbed dick, although I think that I was supposed to view him a little more charitably.  Although he's supposed to be kind of slacktastic, Hirsch immediately finds the wrong note for the character.  We're introduced to Sean and his business partner, Ben (Max Minghella) on an airplane flight, where Sean decides that's he's too cool to comply with the "turn off all your gadgets" decree.  I'm certain the goal to was to show him being a charmer, but instead of coming off as as a smooth talker he instead comes off as an entitled little shit, who is constantly being enabled by Ben.  And that kind of makes me hate Ben, as well.

So when the pair arrive at a business meeting to discover that a legal oversight has let their business partner, Skyler (Joel Kinnaman) rip off their surefire hit website idea wholesale, I was thinking that they probably deserved it in some karmic sense, even though Skyler was also a dick about it.  If you're keeping score, that's three-for-three on the dick-o-meter regarding the lead male characters.  And this presents a problem.  When the aliens show up (you can watch the trailer, I assume that if you're watching this film you're not doing so for a bromance between two tech start-up founders), I don't really care that much what happens to any of the main characters.  The aliens look cool, vacillating between an electric orange wisp and that sort of visual shimmer like in "Predator," and when they start turning people into grey packing peanuts, I'm not invested in the survival of Sean, Ben, Skyler, or the two random club chicks they hunker down with.  Sean's character arc sort of hints at a redemption from underachiever-dom story-line, but since the filmmakers botched their opportunity to get the audience to invest in the main characters (Sean in particular), I don't care who gets picked off and who gets the chance to lead humanity boldly into the future.

That begs the question, what is there of merit in "The Darkest Hour?"  The two biggest things is that the aliens are visually pretty cool.  Over the course of the movie, you get better glimpses of exactly what the characters are dealing with in an incremental manner.  I also liked the alien-vision visuals - it's a black and white sort of digital sketch where the people appear in orange.  That'll make more sense if you see it.  Also of interest: scenes of post-apocalyptic Moscow.  Whether or not they shot the movie there, I have no idea, but things like this are rarely set in Russia in American sci-fi films.

Perhaps my biggest quibble with this film (aside from the off-putting characterization) is the idea of bloodless deaths.  It's one of the biggest problems I had with "Sucker Punch," as well.  I fully understand that if you can come up with an excuse to divorce violence from it's trappings, you can do just as "The Darkest Hour" does and pull a PG-13 rating, thus allowing kids to see your movie without parental permission.  On the other hand, it's the single thing that pushes violent films (which I don't have a problem with) into a sort of violence pornography (which I do have a problem).  If you wouldn't allow a teenager to see a graphic death because of the bloodiness of it, you shouldn't be attempting to sell that scene to a teenager sans blood.  Actions have consequences, and being dishonest about the weight of those consequences is something that should carry a harsher rating.  I mean, that is if you intend the rating system to do any good and not just be a skirt to hide behind.

"The Darkest Hour" is not a good movie for about a dozen reasons.  You might have the same irrational affinity for these kinds of movies that I do for bonehead comedies, and I know we've all got our weaknesses.  So if this is the sort of thing that you're into, don't mind me.  I'm not going to make you sit alongside me while I re-watch "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" for the thirtieth time.  I get it.  But if that's not you, I'm microwaving some popcorn right now.  We can probably find something better (or vastly worse) to watch.

1.5 / 5 - Theatre

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