I’ve always found disintegration a moderately profane—even decadent—way for a character to check out, for reasons I can’t really get my head around. Whether it’s in literature, from Philip K. Dick’s Solar Lottery to Stephen King’s Tommyknockers, or in film, like Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, or the recent John Carter, the idea of somebody being vaporized means they got a supremely raw deal, death-wise, via nearly possible physics, with the added insult that their departure from this world was no more inconvenient for their survivors than busting out the Dirt Devil. It’s a time-honored convention in movies to give departing characters some kind of last word or, failing that, a last look; disintegration denies both, reducing a sacred moment to the scale of an unceremoniously canceled book deal.
Chris Gorak’s The Darkest Hour understands that concept reasonably well, insofar as it’s pretty much the film’s only reason for existence. There’s the bullshit buildup to the elaborate vaporizing action sequence (five fresh-faced young assholes converge on Moscow due to inane, tedious circumstances), followed by two or three slightly less visceral peaks on the downward trajectory of the subsequent letdown. What makes the film tolerable, at least for the first few reels, is that Gorak isn’t a half-bad shooter; I wouldn’t go so far as to say that any sequence of shots was particularly well directed, but I could imagine the same project in the hands of a Marcus Nispel or a Jonathan Liebesman, and it’s not a pretty picture.
What little goodwill the film earns during its reasonably efficient first and second acts is effectively pissed away by a screenplay that actually becomes dumber as it goes along. The nadir is achieved when the invisible beasts take physical form, and the survivors of the massacre fight back, armed with Ghostbusters-inspired energy-arc-blasting backpacks. This is one of those discount genre films that establishes new rules one minute, then throws them out the window in the next, which might be easy to forgive if the last third of the film didn’t also resemble the awful series finale of Dollhouse, a kind of community-theater Mad Max 2 that serves to underline both the financially and the creatively impoverished nature of its tiny enterprise.
The Darkest Hour's visual pattern consists of sandblasted Moscow locations—the city's peppiest, most tourist-friendly grays—accented with the punk orange of the aliens' deadly, writhing tendrils. Summit's high-def transfer, with a well-mixed 5.1 DTS-HD soundtrack, is irreproachable, if unremarkable. Given that the meager number of moviegoers who actually went to see this end-of-2011 unwanted orphan in theaters probably saw it projected in digital 3D or 35mm, the Blu-ray disc almost certainly presents the best possible way of seeing the movie.
The film ends in a singularity of head-slapping idiocy (in the tacked-on final scene, Emile Hirsch intones, "This is how it starts," and Olivia Thirlby marks the map for "Paris"—seriously?) that really underscores the idea that what we're dealing with is a movie made by one group of people who were honestly trying to do a good job with what they were given, but were subsidized by another group of people who clearly didn't care that their investment was destined for an afterlife on Netflix Instant. The extras, obligatory and mercenary, actually carry that ball a few more yards. Along with the obligatory deleted scenes, audio commentary, and press-kit fodder, there's an eight-minute short that has the steel-plated audacity to serve as continuation fiction for the movie's last-minute, Hail Mary pass into abject, garment-rending stupidity. It kind of has to be seen to be believed, if you get to that point.
A Razzie-worthy sci-fi zero gets the undeserving high-definition treatment from Summit Entertainment.