Friday, June 3, 2011

REVIEW: The Dark Hour

The Dark Hour
Director: Elio Quiroga
Year 2006

The Dark Hour is a highly engaging horror hybrid that follows a group of survivors as they struggle to stay alive in a post nuclear apocalypse. Constantly brimming in a heightened sense of paranoia and doom, the group fights off the persistent attacks of infected zombies and ghostlike creatures, while dealing with the constant threat of civil war among their surviving numbers. With terror around every corner, can the group salvage the small community they've established or is humankind doomed to repeat their own destruction. The Dark Hour is a curious film filled with tremendous mysteries and nonstop suspense and it's one that will stay with you long after viewing.

Doesn't look like the most inhabitable environment to raise little ones.

Director Elio Quiroga drops us smack dab into a world that has been devastated by man's inability to find peace. Battered and broken, we're placed into a tight knit community of survivors that all long to make it through these turbulent times and possibly build a new future as long as they can survive the new dangers this world has produced. The cast does an impeccable job of bringing this dangerous world to life, painting it in a desperate tone that pretty much sustains throughout the film's runtime. Their performances are foreboding and serious, always keeping the audience aware that not everything is right in this current living arrangement that they have created. We're given bits and pieces of what is going on within the group and the world for that matter, but are never given enough to formulate a concise blueprint on what is plaguing the crew until much later. I really loved the slow build up and unfolding of the world in this approach. It gives us a chance to get to know the players on hand and what an assorted and motley crew they are.

Watching a movie within a movie. Very mysterious indeed.

The central character of this piece would have to be the young and mischievous Jesus, who in the early opening segment of the film, introduces us to the entire cast of survivors. We're given, through Jesus' personal narration, an inner look into how Jesus perceives each member and how they appear to him in their figurative roles. It's an interesting approach and one that works well off the concept of mystery and the slow unraveling of the plot. By seeing the world through a young child's eye, we're only given a small viewpoint on the bigger picture at hand. This makes the concept of the mysteries and the adult aspects of their dire situation that much more natural and fluent for we feel the frustration and helplessness that young Jesus must be feeling by not knowing the truth or the danger that he is truly in. I felt that it was a refreshing approach to a rather original plot, placing us in the shoes of an innocent who isn't apart of the day to day plans in keeping the group alive.

A ghostly figure of a ghost.

Not only is the set-up rather ingenious, but the rounding out of the adult cast members and mentors of young Jesus is also rather inspiring. There's a great diversity to the group, with everyone bringing something special to their roles. There's the hardened female leader Maria and her charismatic lover Pablo, who serves as a rather special father figure to Jesus. A mentally burned-out soldier named Pedro who appears dangerously obsessed with Maria. Then there's Magda the astronomer who mothers an orphaned teenager named Ana, who also shares in some of the angst of being protected from the truth like young Jesus. Another interesting pairing is in Lucas and Matao, a gay couple whose relationship begins to morph as tensions rise and close quarters begin to take their toll.

Completing the group is the loner and elder Judas, who lives outside of the survivors compound. He's the most interesting of the bunch for he gives the most information on what has happened to this world and why it is that they live this way. His small glimpses into the world before the war and how the civilization functioned is quite enthralling and oh so intriguing. All in all, the cast is just remarkable, allowing us to see some very different viewpoints, both personal and political, within this crumbled society.


One of the most effective aspects of the film is done through the slow reveal of information and knowledge, which is so eloquently gifted to the audience, by the character of Judas. By using old news reels and various propaganda found throughout his living quarters, we get a rough idea on what has proceeded up until this point in the movie. Keep in mind though that nothing is ever spelled out to the viewer, seeing that we are essentially experiencing everything through the captivated minds of the two younger characters.

In essence this is a coming of age sort of narrative, where we follow both Jesus and Ana on their journey to discover the truth behind why their world is this way. The understanding of their world is born of innocence. They are naive to their surroundings just as we are naive to the prehistory of the film. When a new piece of the puzzle falls into place by the wise words of Judas, we take it all in, but never fully grasp the overall meaning of that knowledge for it's not the complete picture. I loved this form of discovering the world alongside the two young characters and thought that it was the perfect way to bring us along for their wild ride of discovery.

I've got a problem solver and it's name is....... pistol.

As we are given more pieces to the puzzle, we come to realize that something of a nuclear war has taken place between two warring civilizations or factions. Again, nothing is really spelled out to the audience, but fragments of truth begin spilling out as the film moves along. There's also a great blend of science fiction as we come to discover that this civilization had some great technological advancements in their everyday society. The mystery thickens as we realize that this is a world, of possibly our future, giving way to all kinds of possibilities and cavernous room for speculation. The Dark Hour is really a film that keeps you on your feet mentally, always introducing something new to the equation and flipping the already established findings on their head. It's a whirlwind of ideas that just seem to blend so well together. You really have to give it up to the creators on concocting such a deep and engaging story that is both ambiguous in its interpretation yet concise in its overall tone.

Why don't you get that damn light out of my face!

Now, I've been gushing over the high concept approach of this genre film, but I'm forgetting the real meat and potatoes of the movie and that's the horror elements. The atmosphere is just charged with a foreboding presence that it just lies thick in the air. The dark corridors and the low lighting of the film, really amp up the scare factor and keeps you on the edge of your seat. The overall feel of the film has a lot to do with the two antagonists that plague the survivors of the movie. They're two separate entities that are worlds apart, yet have the same function in bringing on the scares and death's of our main characters. There's so much to talk about between the two, that I'm just going to start with one side of the coin and then branch off into the other wild offerings. Needless to say, the film has a wide array of iconic baddies that make this film an oddity of sorts.

This film may be too spooky for kids under 13.

First off, you'd be surprised to know that this is in fact a zombie film. At its heart it is a siege film, where our heroes are trapped inside an essentially boarded up facility with rabid creatures trying to rip their way inside. It's not as straight forward as a George Romero film, yet still it has that essential ingredient that matches the tone of Romero's work. Instead of a rotting corpse devouring the living, we have a slimy, tar-skinned creature that infects its victims by simply touching them. Pair this with the small tidbits we are given about nuclear fallout and radiation poisoning, and we're given an interesting yet highly vague outlook unto how these creatures came to be. Even with its enigmatic approach to explaining the existence of these zombie like creatures, I still loved trying to piece together their mysterious origins and the circumstances that brought them to this ravenous fate. In the end, these guys are fearsome and send shivers down your spine whenever they appear in the film, so that's all that matters to me. Plus, these undead beings are nothing compared to the films other perplexing protagonists.

You're going to wreck your eyes sitting that close to the TV, junior.

What seems like overkill, on what is already a rather ambitious film, the creators decide to throw a supernatural element into the mix. Ghosts, in the shape of massive insect like beings, visit our surviving characters, bringing with them a chill that literally freezes the living world. With these bad boys, we get little to no explanation at all and it's basically up to the reviewer to fill in the blanks on what they are and where they came from. It's kind of odd that such a vital part of the story line is kind of just out there with no reasoning behind it, but even with the lack of depth on the ghost's part, I still enjoyed their ever lurking presence. The sequences in which the apparitions visit the group's bunker at night are rather intense, building up a very effective amount of suspense as the hallways and doorways begin to freeze over from their icy arrival. There existence in the world is a nice touch, even if it borders on overkill.

Maria comes to the realization that one of her group may need to go to the funny farm.

The most amazing prospect of The Dark Hour is its uncanny ability to build up to a specific event in time. Throughout the whole movie, the film is establishing the layout of how this film world functions, yet inevitably never giving too much away so to make us yearn to know more while filling in some of the blanks ourselves. In this process, we tend to veer off from the correct path and let our minds go wild, only to be given another small piece of the puzzle that results in resetting our course towards the truth. This happens time and time again as the film trudges along and in each instance it works perfectly. The mystery is always present and functioning to the max.

What all of this teasing and mental manipulating ends up doing is that it preps our minds for one of the most mind boggling conclusions to any zombie/sci-fi/ghost story hybrid that I've ever come across. I'm not going to give any of it away, but the last visual moments of the film are quite out there and extremely unexpected. The funny thing is that even in the reveal of the conclusion there are still many ways to interpret what you've seen. I've read many theories on what a great deal of diverse people thought of the ending and most of their hypothesis make sense. That's what I think is so great about this ending. It can go in so many directions and have so many meanings to so many different people, yet still make sense in the grand scheme of it all. It's such a memorable ending and the general build up to that epic conclusion is just masterfully executed.

Note to self, this is not a good idea.

The Dark Hour is a film that has so much going for it that it's just silly that so many people have yet to experience its ambiguity. The combination of science fiction, supernatural creatures, and zombie film aesthetics is just mesmerizing and the fact that it all gels together nicely is frankly kind of mind-boggling. I loved the large range of characters within the small group and the interactions that occur during their long fight for survival. I loved the small bits of prehistory that we are given and the fact that it is gifted upon the viewer in small sporadic portions that eventually results in a reveal that I don't think anyone can truly see coming.

With all its high concept ideas, the film works on the basic level of a brutal zombie film with a haunted house kind of edge. It never strays from being a genre film, for the atmosphere is thick and never lets up as it focuses on the moral decay of humankind when pushed to the limit and faced with the worst. It's refreshing to see a film like this, that has something more to say underneath the subtext of the film, while at the same time being able to keep that overwhelming horror tone. I'd have to highly recommend this film to anyone that enjoys a good old fashion horror film, that isn't afraid to have something mentally challenging going on under the hood. It's ambitious, bold, and devastating, never compromising for the easy way out and never straying from its focused attempt at telling a deep and intriguing story. Loved it!

5 out of 5 stars     An Ambitious Hybrid of Horror Goodness!

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