– Summary –
Director : Zac Hilditch
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Nathan Phillips, Angourie Rice, Jessica De Gouw, Kathryn Beck, Daniel Henshall, Sarah Snook, Lynette Curran, David Field.
Approx Running Time : 87 Minutes
Synopsis: When the Earth is struck by giant meteors, and the wave of destruction blasts towards the West Coast of Australia, the final 12 hours of civilisation plays out with horrific abandon and wanton hedonism. One man stumbles upon a young girl, who insists he take her to her Aunty’s place; it’s a task that will take both of them across Perth and back, and along the way, they both reconcile their life’s failures as certain doom catches up with them.
What we think : Terrifying apocalypse thriller, plays a little like 28 Days Later meets Armageddon, only without the zombies, or Bruce Willis to save the day. This low-key dramatic work has plenty of moments of pure tension, escalated by the approaching destruction of everything, perhaps as brutally realistic a depiction of Earth’s conflagration from asteroid strike as there ever has been. It asks us, via its lead actor as a conduit, not only how we’d spend a finite time left on Earth knowing we’re about to die, and who we’d spend it with. If you can, see These Final Hours. You won’t regret it.
Yeah, I’d probably spend my final hours f@cking myself into oblivion too….
End Of The World scenarios are a dime-a-dozen in Hollywood; hell, Roland Emmerich’s made a career out of it. Finding an apocalyptic film that has something to say other than gargantuan visual effects or rote, generic characters, is a little tougher than snaffling up the latest Michael Bay extravaganza. Local Aussie director Zac Hilditch has pulled off a remarkable feat: he’s created a seamless, enthralling, utterly compelling look at what it might truly be like if this scenario were to play out for real. It’s kinda like Deep Impact, if you removed the ensemble cast and all of the overblown, saccharine pseudo-societal breakdown crap, and especially if you removed the “send a spaceship up to blow it up” rubbish. The fact that These Final Hours, by very definition of its title, depicts the last 12 hours of the city of Perth, in Western Australia (yay, no blowing up Sydney or Melbourne… only poor little Perth!) as Earth succumbs to its mutual destruction at the hands of a couple of pesky meteors, which strike somewhere in the North Atlantic, is as good as it is, is due mainly to the pared back character roster, simpler emotional constructs, and knockout production design, some of which blew me away. Literally.
The end of the world is coming – in 121 hours, Western Australia will be hit with an incinerating wave of fire and destruction from a meteor strike in the North Atlantic, and which is nor circling the globe reducing humanity to nothing but a universal afterthought. James (Nathan Phillips), and his pregnant girlfriend Zoe (Jessica De Gouw) sit in her flat by the beach, wrestling with their imminent deaths. James wants to depart for a final “party” elsewhere in Perth, where his friend Freddy (Daniel Henshall) has a possible survival strategy, while Zoe wants to stay behind, clear-headed, until the end. James leaves alone, but as he journeys through a now ghost-town of the suburban city, he encounters a girl, Rose (Angourie Rice), who has lost her father and family, and now wants James to take her to her Aunty’s place, a default meeting place should the family ever separate. James, taking Rose to Freddy’s hedonistic party – people play Russian roulette, imbibe in copious alcohol, drugs, and sex, and dance the hours away to a voluminous trance track – meets up with his other girlfriend Vicky (Kathryn Beck), while Rose is given drugs by a woman (Sarah Snook) who believes the girl to be her daughter. As Vicky and James have a showdown about their relationship, and how they should spend their last hours, James realizes he has a moral obligation to help Rose find her family (whatever the outcome) and return to Zoe, who waits by the beach for death.
These Final Hours is a fantastic film. In almost every aspect, it succeeds in transporting the viewer into the heart of darkness of absolute apocalypse. This isn’t a film that ends happily – spoilers, it’s not a dream, aliens don’t swoop down to save us, and Bruce Willis is among the first to go up in flames – but rather an exploration of moral decay (or collapse, rather) in the face of certain doom. Nobody really knows when they’ll die – some have inklings, and death row inmates have appointments – but These Final Hours takes that and turns it on its head. A faceless radio announcer (a terrific David Field, whom you’d remember from Chopper) constantly permeates the silence of this film’s quieter moments, regaling us with the impending melancholia of doom sweeping towards our characters (as well as providing a defacto countdown until the end); Field’s voice is a reminder that death is certain, it’s only how we spend what little time we have left that is within our ability to determine. Director Zac Hilditch, who also wrote the script, taps into the primal fear we all have about a scenario like this. It’s the kind of story you’d associate with Doomsday Preppers, those weirdos who think they can outlast Earthly destruction with a rabbit burrow into a hillside and some cans of beans.
These Final Hours is certainly depressing, in a sense, with almost no humor within it whatsoever. That’s not to say it makes you want to slit your wrists, because the tension Hilditch draws from the precarious moral, ethical and personal dilemmas he places James in are particularly all-encompassing: most people would do any number of the things depicted in this movie. Plenty kill themselves. Many kill their families, and then themselves. Some just go on wild benders, writing themselves off into oblivion before oblivion really arrives. James, upon discovering one of his two girlfriends is pregnant, can’t handle that knowledge and decides to take the “go on a bender” route (idiot: I’d stay with my GF and spend the rest of my time having sex!) which leads him on a journey to discover (too late, mind) his intestinal fortitude to do what’s right, instead of what he wants. He even meets his mother along the way, a woman he obviously has a fractured relationship with. Hilditch gives us a fairly obnoxious, often selfish lead character in James. He’s not instantly likeable, although the moment he saves Rose from a pair of sexual deviants, using a hammer, no less, is the moment we know he’s still got a moral compass. Nathan Phillips carries the film well, although his dramatic ability is tested in some crucial moments, and at times he looks a little lost between better actors (the film’s small cast is really good) but on the whole, he makes a commendable leading man.
The dichotomy of James’ wants and morals is strong for much of the film; he persists in going to Freddy’s “last party”, which by most standards is utterly horrific. An orgy, a game of Russian roulette with live ammunition, people nude and infested with drugs and alcohol, might seem like a decadent, hedonism-run-riot way to go out, but James knows within himself that even though he might think he needs to be here, his emotional reasoning says he needs to be back with Zoe, his pregnant girlfriend. The journey through this moral jungle is handled with low-resolution by Hilditch, who recognizes the audience’s need for an arc, and the film’s need for plenty of wrangling of conscience. As James is beset by temptation on all sides, mainly to just f@ck himself into extinction and enjoy his last moments alive, the audience is drawn into the pained relationship he has with Rose, and how he – through Zoe’s pregnancy – becomes almost paternal to her. If there was a weak side to the film, it’s the lack of conviction between James and Rose (a solid Angourie Rice, for whom this marks her feature debut) that is a sticking point, and I think had Williams been a stronger actor opposite a child, the film might have had an even stronger emotional core to it; but it’s a small thing overall, really.
Daniel Henshall plays Freddy, high on whatever drugs he’s taken, calling James a “killjoy”, while James’ other girl, the apparently bipolar Vicky (Home & Away’s Kathryn Beck looking totally unrecognizable, and doing things I don’t think kids would want to see) is suitably promiscuous and dangerous. Sarah Snook, who recently stole the show in Predestination, convinces as a wildly insane woman trying to steal Rose away as a manifest of her lost daughter. All aspects of humanity’s fall are played out here, although not in an especially overt way. Hilditch is wise to maintain a sense of edgy friction between the characters and the camera, and although the film’s quieter moments, such as a scene with James encountering a man about to kill his family, carry a more impactful, “don’t do it man” vibe that elicits more than a few hairs on the back of your neck to rise, the film never dumbs itself down.
And the look of the film: holy hell, this is an apocalypse that looks totally uncomfortable for all involved. Western Australia can pack a bit of heat every so often, but man, this film looks like they shot it through an oven on full blast. It looks hot. Sweaty heat and sweltering destruction aside, the production value on These Final Hours is something I found myself agog at. And I don’t type agog lightly. The film’s aesthetic is riveting, really convincing to the point where only the finale, the visuals of the oncoming wave of destruction, become slightly “oh that’s CG”; the rest of the film is grounded in a swathe of littered corpses, cars and burning building, a widescreen epic-ness I didn’t think a low-budget Aussie film could carry off as well as it does here. These Final Hours has had almost zero marketing here locally (from what I can tell), and I doubt anyone overseas will have even heard of this little movie; it’s a shame, because the film is on par with Wolf Creek or Animal House for tension, and inhabits its premise with the very fabric of the filmmaker’s DNA.
I cannot recommend this film highly enough. I loved it. I expected nothing, and got shitloads. It’s a ripper, a fresh taste of an apocalypse that isn’t merely a fantasy these days, but a very real possibility. It asks you: where will you be, and who will you be with, when the time comes to check out. These questions in and of themselves are horrifying to contemplate, and this film doesn’t hold back with possible answers; as a thrill ride it succeeds, as a film it ticks all the boxes, and as an entertainment, it’s one you should definitely hunt down and watch.
© 2015 – 2016, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.