(just the fact that I am taking the time to write about this should tell you something, because I usually don't give a shit about reviewing a movie, thinking, hey, everybody has a taste, good or bad, if you enjoy this dreck, be my guest)
But not in this instance. The Darkest Hour is the latest of the "Alien Invasion" movies that have haunted us this year, starting with...
Battle: LA (which had some of the worst military dialogue in history, everybody who's ever been in the army will cringe hearing it, but at least also has some kind of Blackhawk Down sensibility in its battle scenes)...
Attack The Block (easily the best of the bunch, with its unplanned "tie-in" with the London Riots this summer... and one could argue that this movie plays a lot more like a Council Estate version of Gremlins with a lot more cussing, because in the end it doesn't matter if the things attacking are alien of not)...
Apollo 18 (where we now know there are intelligent rocks on the moon, and they eat people. Or something like that. Stay away from it. This movie, I mean, not the moon)
What have we learned through these movies? Bad Aliens Are Out There To Get Us And Steal Our (a) lifeforce (b) water (c) energy... or (d) all of the above.
(incidentally, any fucking stupid screenwriter worth his or her salt would know that no alien, I repeat, no alien would come down to Earth and kill a few folks.. for water after having traveled a couple of lightyears. Psssst, kids. There's Europa, and no, I don't mean my continent, I mean the moon, which has a shitload of water, albeit in frozen form. If you're totally into water, you could just as well put a sign up that says Eat At Joe's there...)
And now it's Moscow's turn. I can see the pitch meeting.
And on it, he got, that Jon Spaihts, who apparently is one of those up and coming screenwriters in Hollywood, so much so that he wrote the first draft of Ridley Scott's Prometheus, and even if you liked the trailer to that one, you should pray and hope that the incoming Damon Lindelof (of Lost infamy) rewrote everything and that the writer credit Spaihts got there is just a legal thing...ProducerAliens?
ProducerWe've had aliens...
WriterIt's, like, totally different, the aliens are invisible!
ProducerOh... I like me the sound of that. Good thinking, kid. Get this kid a whore, we can put it on the budget, because if we don't need to show the fuckers, we'll save millions!
WriterIt'll be like 28 Days Later meets Cloverfield.
ProducerSounds good. Keep going. But know what? Still worried about the whole thing, we have destroyed New York, LA, Chicago, London already, we gotta think about the international market...
WriterMoscow! We gonna destroy Moscow.
ProducerFuck, that's genius, because them Russkies are going to the movies more than our fucking Americans these days. We can sell this, like, worldwide.. but we gotta have Americans in there, somewhere...
WriterDon't worry, I'll tack them on.
ProducerAnd chicks. Good-looking chicks.
ProducerWell, get on it!
The result of this all?
The Darkest Hour.
And you should already be frightened when the official summary of the movie for Rotten Tomatoes is this...
The Darkest Hour is the story of five young people who find themselves stranded in Moscow, fighting to survive in the wake of a devastating alien attack. The 3D thriller highlights the classic beauty of Moscow alongside mind-blowing special effects.It's telling that the summary plays up only "Moscow" and hey, did we mention it was in 3D? With INVISIBLE ALIENS, by the way, because those play so fucking well in 3D? And none of the special effects are breathtaking enough to merit a 3D in the first place, either.
But the thing that should scare is you that it doesn't matter who those five people are!
Not even to the assholes trying to sell you the film!
Those five people...
(none of which you need to know, they are stock characters of the worst kind, the type of Twenty-Something Yuppie characters that Hollywood is so enarmored with, three software engineers and two chicks they meet during a night of clubbing, one of those is actually Rachael Taylor, who should know better and was in the first Transformers as super-intelligent govt. hacker figuring out the secret takeover plans of the evil robots and who is reduced here to a dumb fucking blonde)
... they see the first sign of the alien attack as one of them evil aliens... and here's the shitkicker, it kills one cop in front of the club crowd after they ventured outside when all of Moscow is blacked out. Why? How? Who cares? It's shit shot in the dark.
And the cop gets burned extra crispy. Lookee here...
And panic ensues.
And our five "heroes" hide themselves for a day, before they venture out into the aforementioned 28 Days Later scenario, which primarily means that Moscow is empty. Except for some strategically placed cars so that it alloks a wee bit creepy. There's some tensions in that group, mainly because all of them are so stupid that they go, hey you know where we should go? The US Embassy!
That idea alone makes a strong case for the audience to go, "oh, I hope you all die..."
And they do. One after one, but not before they figure out that (and here it comes) that electricity gives the invisible aliens away, so you can "see" them since their charges light up the previously drained cars, lightbulbs, street lamps like a Christmas tree.
And while they are being picked off (the Swedish guy playing the Black Character here, you know he's going first, and hey, he does!), they meet up with a mad plubmer/electrician/scientist who has the aliens all figured out, see, they cannot pass through a Faraday cage, because they are a "wave energy" (apparently they aren't, they're some interdimensional shit and the whole invisible microwave thing is just a shield, you know, like in Star Trek)...
... did I mention these are the dumbest aliens ever?
I mean, if you can stop them with a Faraday cage... then all you'd have to do is...
... now, kids, which one of you listened in 3rd grade science?
Yes, all you'd have to do to stay safe is... STAY IN YOUR CAR!
Whoops. Major plot problem.
Not that Mister Spaihts has any experience with technology, oh, wait, according to that afore linked article to Variety...
In the early 2000s, Jon Spaihts was on another career path entirely as an executive for the New York-based educational technology company Teachscape.3rd grade science... just saying...
But who cares. Shit goes haywire in the flat of the Russian mad scientist/plumber/electrician, which means that Miss Rachael Taylor gets killed by an alien, something that I'm sure she thought about "thank fuck, I am outta here"
But in the meantime, with a Russian teen girl (and like all Russians, she apparently has "The Pout" down to an art and is really, really brave, and we know so, because she actually says "I am tough" Da. Seriously. I am not making this shit up) and some information from a radio (they work inside a Faraday cage, so do cell phones... we are not going into the ridiculousness of it all), the remaining kids know there's a Russian nuclear sub waiting for surivivors!
A Russian Nuclear Sub! No fucking shit. In Moscow. In the river.
Stretching it... would be an understatement.
(if you don't believe me, look at where the Russian fleet is stationed, and tell me how in the space of 48 hrs or so, a sub will get to Moscow, if they are even at their ports and not out at sea)
But who cares. Our remaining survivors meet up with the Three Stooges, oh, no, wait, three Russian soldiers fighting against the aliens, which pretty much only says "hey, we can kill these things", they get to the sub, but not before the remaining American girl gets lost... which has our remaining US boy "but we cannot leave without her" (and here is where you literally want to start slitting your wrist and go, please God, let me die, no further)
And so the three Russian soldiers, the Russian teen girl and our US boy go and kill three aliens in an incredibly silly fight (with "microwave guns" previously invented by that Russian Mad Scientist, yeah, I know... don't ask)
... and off they go, on the nuclear sub, to teach the other remaining survivors how to fight the aliens and retake the planet. But not before the last remaining hero kisses his new love interest that he has just saved (kids, if you want to get into a girl's knickers, nothing beats saving them from aliens)
This movie, this script, these characters belong to the worst that I have ever seen.
And now, some of you out there will go, oh shut your fucking trap, Thomas, unless you can do it better, then you are just a grumpy guy who didn't make it in Hollywood.
Yeah, I know. Typical argument by idiots like you.
But I'll play, if only briefly.
Let's take the basic premise as outlined in my imaginary pitch meeting above.
Moscow. Alien invasion. Americans.
Okay, here's the thing, and everybody should have seen Back To The Future (the original one) to know that (a) you can pretty much put all of your exposition in the first 10 mins (b) you can foreshadow your entire movie in those 10 mins and (c) you can make your characters likeable in those 10 mins by showing their normal life.
None of which Mr. Spaihts did. He introduces his characters through (a) the flight to Moscow (b) a fucking pitch meeting (c) a night club.
Here's how you do it. You need to have an American in Moscow. To have an emotional anchor for them folks in the Fly-Over-Countries. Fine. Let me introduce you to...
Emilie Hirsch (who plays the main lead) and who - in my version - is an American exchange student at a Moscow university.
Make him be there for about six months already, so that he still (a) has problems with the Russian language but (b) has so far settled in that we can show him having a "normal" life.
Make him a student of astronomy or astrophysics, make him essentially Peter Parker minus Spiderman, he is smart, but not brilliant, but it gives us a way to deal with the physics of the aliens' invisiblity later... and a way to explain the microwave stuff etc...
... instead of the random Russian Mad Electrician, make that character one of Hirsch's professors, make him somewhat unhinged but friendly, if you like. Again, this will add credibility to some of the bullshit that's going to go down later.
Give Hirsh a girlfriend.
Make that girlfriend Russian (not only because it's logical, but also because you can cast a Russian actress and thus even double your stake in Russia's movie grosses, but also because then your plot point of "we cannot leave without her" makes actually sense). Make that girlfriend a student as well. Make her smart. And kind. And tough.
If you need more Americans, have Hirsch's brother and/or best friend come in to Russia to have a good time with him, so that we can have a scene perhaps at the airport where they Hirsh and his girlfriend pick them up. And then you can have them go clubbing...
.. but before shit flies, you then have established proper relationships between the different characters, and that is the main thing in movies like this. The characters need to be relateable and likeable, something that Spaihts fails to do on every level.
Now, I'm not going to think on how to structure the rest of the movie, mainly because whatever follows would come from those character interactions, and the way I write, these things happen organically, then.
But with these relationships just described, in the roughest terms, I know that - for a movie like this - I am already on safe ground, because I will have made you care about them in the first 10 to 15 minutes.
And it's easy to do that.
It's not rocket science.
But then again, Hollywood doesn't know rocket science.
Or a good story. Or a credibly plotted film.