Timur Bekmambetov, the Kazakhstani director behind the epic Russian supernatural thriller films Nochnoy Dozor and Dnevnoy Dozor, Night Watch and Day Watch respectively, is a powerful force in the cinema of that mighty land, though his focus has moved to America with Wanted and the forthcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Serving as producer on this alien invasion tale, he facilitated filming in Moscow, but unlike those earlier films, the key cast of this are non-natives, a decision intended to encourage international accessibility which only serves to render the product generic.
Travelling to Moscow for a presentation with their Swedish business colleague Skyler, Sean and Ben find themselves out in the cold and retreat to the nightclubs where they meet Natalie and Anne. For no adequately explored reason, the planet Earth is then attacked and rapidly subjugated by one of those pesky alien invasions that were so popular in 1950’s B-movies, and other than the absence of Cold War subtext, or any other depth, that is what this inept film resembles.
The film would be more engaging if the few survivors, who endured several days in a nightclub basement without supplies or sanitation yet emerge groomed and coiffed with makeup intact and stubble absent, were not composed entirely of children. As they are picked off one by one, each bland demise is met with the same apathy; while not as hideously obnoxious as the teen fodder that is disposed of in the equivalent horror film, none has sufficient personality to warrant any feeling.
Electrical flickers warn of the presence of the aliens, and glass insulates against them, but with the big question of “why” never addressed, the film becomes nothing more than a child’s game of hide and seek in the dark. No reason is given why the invisible aliens, reminiscent of the Id monster of Forbidden Planet, have attacked Earth; there is no communication, they are immediately deadly to humans via “lethal wave energy” and impervious to our weaponry, although microwave ovens apparently serve as a defence in a pinch.
One character theorises that they may covet mineral resources, but as the asteroid belt is adequately stocked of metals and unfettered by a gravity well, simple economics would indicate that to be a more practical destination for extraterrestrial prospectors, although logic is not a strong point for any of the survivors; having been thrown into river Moskva and lost one of their number, they immediately intuit that a flare shot from several blocks away must be their comrade, who has not only teleported herself across the city, but is evidently the only person in Moscow so equipped.
Director Chris Gorak’s Right At Your Door was a claustrophobic tale of paranoia created with minimal budget and resource, superior in every aspect to this pointless $40 million extravagance, and the disappointment of his major debut is exacerbated because there are moments that indicate competence: the opening credits dissolving from Cyrillic to English over animated starcharts; the character’s observation of the infiltration of American brands such as Starbucks and McDonalds, as much invaders in Moscow as the aliens; the sight of a crashed aeroplane lodged within the halls of a shopping mall.
With no attempt at narrative resolution, this has obviously been created with the intention that it will lead to a sequel, but it is to be hoped that audience indifference might be able to deflect that outcome. Too late, however, is the casting of Olivia Thirlby as Judge Anderson opposite Karl Urban’s Judge Dredd in Pete Travis’ forthcoming adaptation of the iconic comic; it is hoped that the strength of that iconic character might encourage her to give a more interesting performance.
The Darkest Hour is now on general release in both 2D and 3D