Forget Aliens, "Darkest Hour" Works Better as Tribute to Cold War Catastrophes

by Tony Rutherford , HNN Entertainment Editor
Forget Aliens, "Darkest Hour" Works Better as Tribute to Cold War Catastrophes

Why has “Darkest Hour” been trashed by critics and relegated outside even moderately favorable buzz?  By “alien” comparisons to big f/x and tent-pole favorites like “Independence Day,” the re-make of “War of the Worlds” or the clever “Cloverfield.”

Instead of nonstop  blasting and battling, “Darkest Hour” has a better fit in a forgotten sub-genre of what were the after atomic doomsday survival (“On the Beach,” “World , the Flesh and the Devil,” “Omega Man”) 50s and 60s reflection of apocalyptic culture.  Scratch the shock and awe effects mode. Insert small groups of  young adult survivors trapped in Moscow when aliens land to depopulate the planet. Those fascinated by apocalyptic plots will accept "Darkest Hour" as a satisfactory entry , even with the requisite cast sacrifices to the star bursting villains.

The story follows two would be social networking barons Sean (Emile Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella) falling prey to Russian pirating, then, meeting up with two American ‘hotties,’ Natalie (Olivia Thirlby) and Anne (Rachael Taylor). Dancing disappointments away at a Moscow rockin’ celebration , the group soon faces oblivion from the shimmery nearly invisible invaders falling like twinkling stars.


Forsaking the cliché NYC, Chicago, D.C., L.A. and London for Moscow allows viewers to feel some of the characters’ frustration navigating an unknown city and coping with a mostly non-English speaking populace.  The abandoned urban landscape has chilling aspects, particularly since these streets and sidewalks are wide and the view not obstructed by modern architecture.  Club scene drinking, dancing and pick up opportunities have universal interpretation, but when the partiers scatter , hide and emerge days later, it’s time to ask did any of these young vacationers pick up a modest English/Russian dictionary before embarking on their journey?  Language barriers post  invasion aside, a ‘what’s the dress code for doomsday’ line at a deserted Russian fashion arcade scores sardonic wit, except those in need of more survivalist threads limit themselves to jacket and boots.

Even  the lost survivors of a catastrophe spin comes with flaws --- mostly  director Chris Gorak’s indecisiveness --- in choosing miniscule character intimacies in favor of an  overreliance on falling buildings and sucked into dust  victims. Missing too (in the editing room?)  more alien invader exposition, the inclusion would quell open-ended bordering on ridiculous  logistic matters.  

Connoisseurs of the cold war survival genre will recognize some help yourself scene allusions to known classics. Think the constant transmission concerning an available submarine (“On the Beach”), the high level barricaded fortress  (“Omega Man,” Charleston Heston version), or the rapid bonding of internationals (“World the Flesh and the Devil”) and the chronic (sometimes fatal) obsessions with locating safer hideaways and thoughts of home ( New York, not Kansas).





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