We got a sneak preview of Wanted director Timur Bekmambetov's new production, an alien invasion flick set in Moscow called The Darkest Hour. Directed by Chris Gorak and starring Emile Hirsch (Speed Racer) and Max Minghella, the movie is about five Americans stranded in Moscow when a seemingly unstoppable alien invasion decimates the city and kills off what Gorak estimated jokingly to be precisely 91% of its inhabitants. Our protagonists have to band together with locals to survive in a city that's been turned upsidown.
The story itself will be familiar to anybody who has seen an alien invasion flick before — deadly creatures from space hit the planet and inexplicably start killing everybody. But the aliens themselves are not your usual CGI bugs.
These aliens are pleasingly different. They're made of what Gorak called "lethal wave energy," and "can cauterize you into ash." Basically these aliens are invisible energy creatures, who can smell electricity. I was impressed with the inventiveness of the movie's creative team, and the concept designs we saw for the movie — as well as the trailer — were full of great ideas about what a truly alien species would be like.
As the aliens invade, they cascade down to the planet in glowing blobs that Gorak and his team modeled on ball lightning. And the first thing they do is drain Earth of all its electrical energy. Plunged into an instant technological blackout, our heroes still manage to use their technical knowhow to survive.
And survival is pretty damn hard. Gorak says the aliens can reach out tentacles of electricity to snag people, which we saw in the trailer. It's as if forks of lightning are grabbing the characters, and we see them quickly flayed into curls of ash. Scenes of Moscow in ruins, however, are even more compelling than the aliens' death rays.
As the invasion progresses, humans figure out that the aliens are made of electro-magnetic energy, and that any creature contained in a wave-blocking Faraday Cage can evade the aliens' sense of smell. We saw a ton of cool images of the devices the humans make to protect themselves, including a winningly strange cat wrapped in a tiny Faraday Cage with two little blinky lights on its furry head. The humans also find out that the aliens, normally invisible, can be seen because they cause lightbulbs to light up, and radios to turn on. We saw a clip of the characters tossing handfuls of lightbulbs ahead of them to suss out where the aliens are. A nice effect.
"We've reversed the usual formula where night is scary and day is safe," said Gorak. "Our aliens are invisible during the day, but you can see them at night lighting up lightbulbs." We'll also get a chance to look at the world through alien cam, and see how humans look to the aliens. But that doesn't mean we'll be visiting the alien control room or getting to know any of them personally ala District 9. These aliens are the enemy, and that's that. Plus they are draining the entire planet of all its energy resources, which makes them double evil.
Hirsch says that his character has an interesting response to the aliens, because he's in Russia with his business partner to set up a deal. Apparently, the two of them wind up taking an approach to defeating the aliens that mirrors how they tackle their business. I guess we'll have to see what that means when the movie hits.
The Darkest Hour looks like a fun adventure with a few twists on the standard alien invasion story. The visuals are probably going to carry the story, and based on what we saw of the film's look, that will be just fine.