Coming December 23 is The Darkest Hour a new 3D alien invasion movie starring Emile Hirsch, written by Jon Spaihts (the first scribe on Prometheus) and directed by Chris Gorak (Right at Your Door, art director of Fight Club). Whereas most invasion films focus on the military battle against the invading extra-terrestrials, this one focuses on what happens after the aliens have already won.
Yesterday, Gorak and the film’s producers sat down to talk with us about the film. After hearing what they had to say and seeing some production art and the first trailer, I think The Darkest Hour could well be the one Hollywood alien invasion movie that everyone remembers from 2011.
Hit the jump to find out why, plus see new concept art from the film.
Click on any image to see the full version.
The first thing we saw was production art; it’s pretty crazy. With images of Red Square lying in ruins, a cat wrapped in metal wires, bodies exploding into ash, a Russian soldier riding horseback while shooting a massive flamethrower and a plane crash landed in the middle of one of the world’s biggest malls, the concept art and production stills display a massive scope and a perverse, distinctly Eastern European sense of humor, courtesy of producer Timur Bekmambetov (who was not in attendance).
“It kind of flips the genre on its head where daytime is scarier than night because during the day you can’t see [the aliens]. But at night, their electro-alien energy illuminates light bulbs and turns on stereos and sirens or something. It’s kind of their tactical mistake of the aliens so it’s easier to track them at night.”
The creatures in the film drop out of the sky in giant balls of white light. It’s beautiful at first but quickly turns deadly.
“They’re made up of such intense lethal wave energy that just by touching them we get shredded, basically like a wood chipper. Instantly bodies pulverized into ash and they’re destroyed. Another great weapon is that they can reach out with their energy, grab things and pull them in to a shred as well.”
The film, the first American production set and shot entirely in Russia, follows a ragtag group of international survivors lead by Hirsch, who must survive the alien occupation and figure out a way to fight back against the invisible beasts. We follow the surviving humans through the streets of Moscow after the initial attack kills 91% of the city’s population.
Similar to Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield, this is a ground-level movie. The aliens have attacked all over the world, but we see the apocalypse from a civilian’s perspective and never know more than they do.
Eventually, the heroes discover that the aliens ‘see’ us by sensing our electro-magnetic pulses. To combat this, they team up with an eccentric Russian scientist who builds a makeshift Faraday cage, a real world device that grounds electricity and cloaks humans from the beasts.
And though the invaders are invisible, they give off such a strong electrical field that it turns on any electrical devices in their immediate vicinity. As an early warning system, the survivors scatter light bulbs around their hideout. When the bulbs light up, they know the other-wordly beings are near.
In one of the film’s most elaborate sequences, two of the heroes sneak out to an abandoned police car in the middle of Red Square to collect weapons and supplies. To give the film added scope and detail, the filmmakers shot the scene on location.
Obviously, shutting down Red Square was not an option, so they filmed over five days, cordoning off one section of the square at a time. The end result is the eerie sight of one of the world’s most famous and busy locations completely deserted.
After giving a bit of background, the filmmakers previewed the film’s first trailer for us. There are literally about 16 alien invasion films scheduled for release between 2010 and the end of next year. Many of them are already beginning to run together, but this trailer sold me on the film in the first 30 seconds.
Here’s why; they kill the dog! You’re never allowed to kill the dog and The Darkest Hour does it in the trailer. That takes serious confidence.
And it’s not just the shock value of turning man’s best friend into dust. The trailer follows through on the promise of the concept art. Moscow looks beautiful and seeing it completely deserted is incredibly eerie. The gags with electricity as a signifier are extremely clever and play out in several escalating ways.
In my favorite snippet, a young heroine runs into a trolley cart, trying to escape a pursuing extra-terrestrial. The monster bursts through the wall, cornering her. But since the trolley is still hooked up to its’ wires, the cart springs to life and speeds madly down the rails.
It all seemed very well thought out and elevated: the invisible monsters, their visual signifiers, tools, and the ways in which the humans fight back. All of it feels different from any film in recent memory, but all of it also makes immediate sense thanks to confident and angular visual storytelling.
I like Summit. Say what you will of Twilight, they pick distinctive productions that other studios wouldn’t have the guts to attempt and package the films with interesting talent – like Hirsch and the various famous Russian actors seen here – led by budding filmmakers. Rarely are the films generic. If nothing else, The Darkest Hour is sure to be memorable, even in the middle of a slew of alien pics.