Late last year, Shock Till You Drop had the opportunity to visit the Moscow set of the upcoming alien invasion film, The Darkest Hour. In August, we brought you the first part of the set visit, interviewing producers Timur Bekmambetov and Tom Jacobson, which you can check out by clicking here.
Glimpsing the headquarters of the Russian Academy of Sciences is to feel doubly removed from reality. Like something out of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, the architecture belongs not only to another time but seemingly to a whole other world. Two conjoined white towers are topped by enormous golden cuboids that themselves appear as if alien vessels have landed and overtaken the institution. Just down the street, a towering statue is dedicated to the first man in space, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. High atop a metallic pillar, he takes a superhero pose in a sculpted rendition of his spacesuit, proudly looking out at the horizon.
Within the walls of the Academy, a scene is being prepared for an overnight shoot in the structure's courtyard. At this point in the film, an alien invasion has take over the entire planet, beginning by knocking out all electrical power throughout the entire world. The creatures, based on electricity, are nearly invisible, but a method has been devised to know when they're coming. The film's leading men and women (Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Joel Kinnaman and Max Minghella) wear light bulbs around their necks that, on the approach of the deadly creatures, begin to glow.
"The flipping of the genre is something I got very excited about," says director Chris Gorak. "Daylight is scarier than night, wherein most scary moments you want to turn on the lights... I think the first thing we see [the aliens] affect is a police car and when those lights and sirens start flashing and whirling, our characters quickly figure out that, as it passes the lights, it illuminates light bulbs with its wave energy... That becomes the dorsal fin of the shark: You see that light go on, danger's coming."
Gorak, who made his feature film debut with the 2006 thriller "Right at Your Door", is not only mounting a production entirely in Russia, but one that is being shot in native 3D. With background as a production designer, he hopes that the look and feel of Moscow can be brought to life in the format.
"When we first started developing this film with Tom [Jacobson] over a year ago," he explains, "we all had a certain 2D movie in our head. Then this 3D tide turned and we started investigating that possibility of 3D and realized that so many different elements of this film lent itself to 3D storytelling. Like Moscow as a new kind of environment that I don't think the movie-going audience has experienced on such a scale. Also, the alien itself. The powers of the alien, the shredding, violence and the lightning, as well as the alien electrical-charging. All the different elements really lend itself to 3D storytelling."
"There's a certain sense where it's kind of like the wild west a little bit," says Hirsch of his time filming in Moscow, "There's this sense where anything can sort of happen...and I like the idea that this is a smaller budget for this kind of movie and I like that spirit. It's an independent filmmaking spirit on a little bigger scale. I really like that and it's kind of dirty and grungy and there's a sense of adventure to it."
"[Moscow is] a character unto itself," adds Minghella. "I don't think it's a villain or a hero. I think it's just a place with incredible history, an incredibly dramatic history, and that resonates in the environment and the way it looks. It's so unusual."
Hirsch and Minghella play Sean and Ben, a pair of Americans who have traveled to Moscow for a business venture that doesn't quite pan out. At the head of the film, they meet Natalie (Thirlby) and Anne (Rachael Taylor), two young women who are travelers themselves. They're all having a night on the town when the aliens arrive.
"You definitely get the sense that you're very far from home," says Thirlby of her on-set experience, "and that has a lot to do with what the characters go through, feeling like not only are they dealing with this kind of crazy, life-changing, world-changing, history-changing event, but they're also so far from home that it adds a desperation of wanting and needing to know what things may be like back at home. That adds the impetus to move."
Joining the surviors is Joel Kinnaman as Skyler, a Swedish businessman who starts off as the films' human antagonist.
"Originally, [I] was supposed to be this German businessman," laughs the actor, "but after I met with Tom [Jacobson] and Monnie [Wills], they were asking me my feelings of this character and I kind of went into 'Dr. Strangelove' mode, and they changed it to a Swede. They thought that would be best. [He's] this businessman who is associated with Sean and Ben who rips them off and steals their idea. They come here and end up empty handed and then unfortunately for them I team up with them when everything goes down. We're all trying to survive together."
Despite Kinnaman's darker qualities towards the start of the film, the human side of the story is meant to be primarily positive. Part of the night's shoot involves the heroes (who themselves represent an international cast) meeting up with a band of Russian soldiers who have figured out a way to ward off the invaders (at least temporarily) with the same principle scientists use to build electrically grounded Faraday cages. The soldiers have covered their bodies with a mesh of wires that prevent the aliens from ripping them to shreds and one is even mounted on horseback with the horse wearing the same kind of device.
"I think the film is actually optimistic about humanity," says Minghella, "I was thinking about how in the scene that we're shooting today that there's such immediate camaraderie. It's a very sort of positive outlook on how people would survive. And I'm very proud of that and happy about that. Fortunately the film chooses to focus on more empowering parts of humanity."
Because alien invasion films have been done before, the cast and crew felt it important to use the genre to tell an original story. In the case of "The Darkest Hour", that meant relating the horror elements to the tale to a more grounded sense of xenophobia.
"I think there's always an appetite for that," says Kinnaman, "the aliens coming or the great unknown coming to us. Then also with everything that's happening, the climate is changing. I mean, we've seen so many tragedies this year that there's a lot of stuff going on around us which shows us how fragile our civilization is. It becomes a metaphor for that. We think that we are so safe on and the right track, at least some people with decision making seem to still believe that we are. This is another way of showing how fragile our civilization is with something as easy as electricity. If electricity disappears we and all of these things we're so proud of just don't work. It shows us just how fragile of a species we are."
Promising a balance between suspense and action, Gorak says that it was important to bring the tale through its exotic Russian environment in a way that was both exciting and realistic. Set over the course of a couple days, the heroes move from Red Square to the Science Academy to the National Library of Moscow (which has never before allowed anyone to film in it and hardly even grants full individual access, making it a hallowed place for the Russian crew) to, at one point, a submarine set.
"There's a lot of running and a lot of movement in this movie, and a lot of climbing and a little bit of falling," says Hirsch. "There was one stunt which was actually pretty cool, which they built half of a submarine and there's this net that I climb up with out of the water and I have this alien gun on my back and I have my bag that I'm holding and I'm like totally soaked in water and the camera is next to the submarine looking up and seeing me climb it, but it was one of those things where I lowered myself down against the river holding this net and it's a pretty good climb up and this alien gun which is strapped to me weighs several pounds. It's like twelve pounds, maybe more, so it was one of those things where it was kind of scary, because I realized if I slipped I could have sunk into the river like a stone. So that was a challenging stunt with actual consequences if I were to mess it up."
The Darkest Hour hits theaters on Christmas Day. Check back with Shock soon for more updates!
Source: Silas Lesnick