Dear The Darkest Hour,
Commitment to an idea or a tone can mean the difference between life and death for a movie. If a film has a ridiculous premise, but really attempts to bring that vision home with style and grace, that earnestness can make up for a lot. If a film has a good handle on a tone, it can make even the most out-of-left-field actions stand the test of credulity and deliver a really interesting and unique time. In terms of alien movies, Attack the Block knew this, as did Battle: Los Angeles. They rose above their rote premises to become something more through dint of hard work and determination and solid ownership of what they strove to be.
The problem is, for those two miracles to occur as they did in those films, a film really has to work for those moments and those aspects. It can’t spend part of its runtime being an uninspired (if still competent) film, and then attempt to shift gears violently in the home stretch. There is within you a film that I would breathlessly tell me friends they have to see to believe. A piece of that film still exists. However, it exists at the end of an exercise in redundancy and cliche that starts off entertaining but becomes a bit of a slog.
Though to say that your first two-thirds leaves a bit to be desired is being less than forthcoming. In general, the problem lies in your pacing and characters. You don’t seem to have a firm handle on your story’s most important aspects, or with the kind of story you are trying to tell in general. As such, you allow for tremendous amounts of wasted time in very short order. A whole character could be excised from your story without causing any kind of disruption to your narrative, and it would have in fact streamlined the story.
Two young men go to Moscow to pitch their travel-based social networking software only to find that their idea has been sharked by a rival. To blow off steam they hit a club, where they meet a pair of American girls. The group hits it off when suddenly the lights go out. Outside, the crowd gathers to watch strange lights descend from the sky. When a police officer goes to investigate, he is suddenly vaporized, and the crowd scatters to try and save itself from a similar fate.
Fast-forward a week and Moscow is a desolate, empty city. Our heroes slowly tease out the ‘rules’ of the monsters they face. They are basically invisible. They give off electricity that makes lights and car alarms go off. They cannot be harmed physically, and sense people by their electromagnetism. However, all of this information takes far too long to cull, as it has to be sandwiched between awkward, ill-defined character building. Thus, the characterizations cannibalize the action, and the action cannibalizes the story. Attack the Block told a similar tale, but it used the action to build the characters. Sadly, when your action hits for the first half of your story, everyone turns into simpering, screaming mess free of agency or logic or character. They do stupid things seemingly for the benefit of facilitating another attack to drive the plot forward.
However, toward your final stretch, something magical happens. Our heroes have been drifting aimlessly, more or less, for a few days. Then they see a light in a building, and decide to go to it. From this point on, your narrative becomes infused with a manic, insane energy as we begin to get introduced to the Russian nationals who have begun to fight back against the luminous horde. Here you find a footing of boldly exciting action, over the top characters who live in sync with the action, and breakneck pacing that drives us toward the conclusion. None of these characters is ever given a back story, but that’s the magic of them. They are people, they are fighting, and they are awesome. No more information is needed for us to love them.
Had you moved more swiftly toward this parade of oddly compelling guerrillas you might have achieved some kind of wild, unpredictable success. Had you taken some risks and broken some rules, you might have trimmed the fat of your story and given us a lean, campy, incredibly rousing time at the movies. As it stands, though, you only gave a mediocre showing, with a bang-up finish.
It’s a shame, because your direction by Chris Gorak (Right at Your Door) is lightly stylish without being showy, and your action beats have a weird kind of shark-in-the-water flavoring to them. If you’d decided to creating a non-stop action showcase, utilized the oddity and novelty of your monsters with more relish and frequency, you might have been amazing. Had you just realized that your characters could be allowed to shut up now and then, we might have had something going here.
Interesting misfires are a particularly depressing breed of film. I see so much potential in you that it breaks my heart you couldn’t give me more. However, in spite of all that, I don’t find myself feeling the need to dissuade people from seeing you. I feel as though the right kind of crowd will find you, and the right kind of person will engage with you. I honestly want my friends to see you just so we can talk about how awesome your last thirty minutes are. Image if you’d given me that throughout the whole story!
But, sadly, it is not to be. Instead of a full-throated recommendation, I’m stuck giving you a very compromised sort of acceptance. Would I see you again? On Netflix, or on cable, definitely. In theaters? Maybe. Because even though I might dread the moments when you try to make me care about your paper-thin American characters, I relish the thought of revisiting your looney, charming rogues gallery or Russian freedom fighters.
We’ll always have Moscow,
Brian J. Roan