The Darkest Hour (2011)

Posted on October 16, 2013


Two software engineers, Sean (Emile Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella) travel to Moscow to get financial backing for their software. Their Swedish partner, Skyler (Joel Kinnaman), swindles them and their deal is dead in the water. That night they go clubbing in Moscow and bump into Natalie (Olivia Thirlby) and Anne (Rachael Taylor).

Then aliens attack.

Short Version

What do you mean you haven’t seen this? It’s pretty damn good.

Long Version

I have been a fan of Timur Bekmambetov since I saw Night Watch (2004). I enjoyed Day Watch (2006) and Wanted (2008). I promise to review Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter as part of a Halloween horror wrap-up this month. When I heard Timur was producing The Darkest Hour, I wanted to see it immediately.

I was not disappointed.

If you are new to this blog or haven’t read my work at Forces of Geek, let me explain that I enjoy watching movies from outside the United States. I like examining how culture alters storytelling. I like seeing how different cultures view the US, or issues that we face in the US. I like seeing my life through a different lens.

The reason that applies to The Darkest Hour is because, despite the predominantly English-speaking cast, this is a very Russian view of alien invasion movies. This is War of the Worlds seen through Russian eyes, and that’s pretty damn cool.

In The Darkest Hour, Mars does not want our women. Aliens are not after our water, or afraid of it (Signs). No one is trying to kill us off so they can colonize Earth. Instead, these aliens are killing us to defend their strip-mining operations.

Now, I am educated enough to realize that there are few elements on Earth that can’t be found elsewhere in the galaxy. Clearly, the aliens could have gone somewhere else and done the same things without having to kill off every living thing. From that perspective, this movie would seem ridiculous.

However, remember that this is a Russian movie, made by someone who grew up in the USSR. Russia has been invaded many times in her history by foreign powers that wanted Russia’s natural resources. The Nazis invaded hoping to acquire petroleum and natural gas. Imperial Japan invaded Siberia, looking for gold, timber, iron, and other resources.

Just as 1950s American movies reflected our fears of atomic power and radiation, The Darkest Hour reflects a fear of genocide committed to steal resources.

Just like giant ants, tarantulas, and Gila monsters weren’t real, neither is the need to strip mine the Earth. Still makes for a dramatic movie.

As in those ‘50s American movies, character is less important than context and conflict. We never really know what makes Sean click. We know he falls for Natalie, and we know that he’s not a quitter. Natlie is more of an enigma, existing primarily to motivate Sean.

I enjoyed the movie’s structure.

First, the aliens invade. The leads try to find out what’s going on, and see people dying by the actions of the (mostly) invisible aliens.

Then, the leads try to make their way to the American Embassy. This gives them a real sense of how awful things are. They find shelter in an apartment, with a Russian engineer and one of his neighbors.

Next, the (dwindling) leads try to rendezvous with a Russian submarine in the Volga River. On their way, they see the strip-mining commence. They’ve figured out how to detect the aliens, and they have an experimental prototype weapon built by the engineer.

They make it to the water and are in sight of the submarine when the aliens knock a building into the river and incidentally smash the boat.

Sean will not give up. He gets some other survivors, all Russian military, to go back and search for Natalie. They find her, and experience their first victory against the aliens.

The movie ends with the Russian submarine sailing to join other survivors, and Sean is confident that the war for Earth is only just starting.

At each step along the path, there are escalating threats. Hiding or retreating are not successful survival strategies. Only when the protagonists stand up for themselves and fight back do they find success.

That should sound like an old-fashioned, sci-fi, alien invasion, movie structure. I am convinced that is entirely purposeful.

This is director Chris Gorak’s second feature film, and with that caveat, he does a fine job. I am very serious when I saw that I would watch another movie that he directs.


I think that those critics who panned this movie for not having compelling characters or for too many narrative contrivances completely missed what the movie was trying to be. I think the critics who panned it for lacking imagination are simply wrong.

This movie won’t change the way you see the world, but it will give you a good, old-fashioned, thrill ride.

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Posted in: Movies