Dir: Zak Hilditch
Starring: Nathan Phillips, Angourie Rice, Jessica De Gouw, Daniel Henshall, Kathryn Beck, Lynette Curran and Sarah Snook
Living in cinematic world where doomsday can be averted by a case of human-made deus ex machina, “These Final Hours” is a huge slap in the face to this cozy comfort. A meteor has struck the Earth and every country, every person has died in a painful manner thanks to a tsunami of cosmological fire storm that has swept the globe. Australia is the final continent to be incinerated and it will all happen within the next 12 hours. Nobody can save the world, everybody can only succumb to the inevitable.
Director Zak Hilditch is the latest of promising directors to emerge from Australia and if “These Final Hours” are anything to go by, he will be going places very soon. Although the budget was modest, we are seeing a very bleak end of days tale that shows unsubtly how insignificant human life is when it comes to the universe. The city of Perth is the backdrop of this film and Hilditch wastes no effort in showing a land that is dead as a doornail. Streets are lined with trash bags for a garbage truck to pick them up, as if in denial that tomorrow will never come. Dried, decomposed bodies are strung up on lamp posts with signs around their neck disclosing “Sorry, had to leave” while other corpses line the simmering streets. Tar is melting underfoot and there is no birdsong as all of the birds have met their end thanks to the unbearable heat. People who still continue to be hanging onyo their rapidly declining existence are gathered on street corners receiving final rites only to commit suicide while human monsters roam the suburbs fulfilling every sick, wretched fantasy because they know they will never be able to do so come dawn. It’s such a depressing yet realistic approach to how humanity reacts to something so beyond their comprehension yet it is impossible to look away from. It is Apocalypse Right Now.
James (Nathan Phillips) after sharing an intimate embrace with his girlfriend Zoe (Jessica De Gouw) at a coastal beach house, knows that the end will be painful and he wants to dull it, so he decides to abandon her to attend a debauched Bacchanalia hosted by his best friend Freddy (Daniel Henshall). His act of cowardice is only compounded when Zoe reveals she is pregnant with his child that will never be born but rather than dignifying her with a response, he takes off, intent on obtaining his own satisfaction. Whilst driving through the suburbs he spies two degenerates hauling a screaming little girl (Angourie Rice) into a house for reasons we can only presume to be unspeakable and despite his own selfish whims, he rescues her. The child, Rose, tells James she wants to find her father and attacked by conscience, James it upon himself to help her even though the quest may be futile. Thus begins an intimate story of redemption in a time of hopelessness. Along the way to Freddy’s party, the two meet a grim array of characters who are responding to their common fates in a manner of unique fashions while also forging a personal, soulful connection between themselves.
The performances in “These Final Hours” are what truly sell the film because without this cast, it may have never seen the light of wide-spread distribution. Phillips’s James is a brawny boofhead at the worst of times, but there is a sense of strong decency underneath his hyper-masculine exterior. The only reason why he acts so brazenly is because he is terrified which is what separates him from the grain. Lynette Curran as James’s curiously calm and collected mother who spends her final hours of life doing jigsaw puzzles is a tender force that manages to anchor the insanity swirling around the film. Daniel Henshall’s Freddy is a methed up hyena who lords his party to end all parties like a manic emcee, waving a gun in his hand while dressed in a pair of unflattering swimming trunks. This is his party and absolutely everything goes from wild, limitless orgies, loud, booming music, wanton acts of violence and a good spot of Russian Roulette.
Fellow Australians could say this is the ultimate, sinful Big Day Out. Kathryn Beck as James’s OTHER girlfriend and Freddy’s sister Vicky is a nymphomaniac who in such vehement denial that she cobbled together a tropical makeshift fallout shelter in the basement of Freddy’s home and her ultimate meltdown will no doubt become a defining scene in the years to come. Prominent Australian radio and media personality David Field provides the sombre and solitary voice of soothing doom through static as a lone radio jockey, acting as Greek chorus to the ultimate tragedy of earth’s demise. However, the performance that stands out the most and is by now of no surprise, is young Angourie Rice. In the drowning darkness of madness and frenzied human behaviour, Rose is a light that guides James to look within himself and discover his humanity and Rice is absolutely stellar; like James, the audience feels the desire to care for her amongst the chaos and revelling anarchy. Humans are in the grand scheme of the universe merely incidental, but from an emotional perspective, the concept of hope is eternal because as the human race, we can understand it. It is a part of us as a species. “These Final Hours” presumes less regarding about the spectacle and focuses on human interactions during such dire circumstances, as well as giving insight to people just realizing who is the most important to them. This notion caused me to ruminate about the fleeting nature of interpersonal relationships and just how minute an amount of time people actually mean something to us during our existence. All of us possess lives which are constantly evolving and as such we come into contact with many people during the course of our journey. “These Final Hours” shows this most basic observation in the most fatalistic of circumstances yet it rings loud and clear to us all.
The cinematographic work by Bonnie Elliot and editing by Nick Meyers is simply astounding, playing with various furiously coloured shades of amber, red and orange to display the rapid degeneration of the world and the minds of its’ last collection of inhabitants. As time goes on, and as the sands run short, the film adopts a sinister, final shade of red that becomes a gritty equivalent of Argento in his prime. I don’t normally comment on the work of those who manipulate the camera and what it frames but I feel I must do so here because these combined elements are another character to the film that is silent but always present. Hilditch has surrounded himself with a talented ensemble to perform in front of and behind the lens and if the world is merciful unlike the one they have helped portray here, they will reach the big time.
In terms of things that do not work in the movie’s favour, the only major point I can sincerely think of is the reaction of the audience to the very dark and grim subject matter. Let’s face it, this film is cruel and not for everybody due to the content at work here. Revulsion is understandable because an individual must be in a particular mindset in order to watch it. I don’t know about you, but I tend to avoid being put into a depressed state of mind when it comes to films in general and I don’t fancy feeling like my emotions have been rubbed raw because that ruins the experience of being a film-goer. I have heard critics remark that this film tends to play more on the sensationalism of the world ending by choosing to pornographise the state of the world, and I really must wonder if we saw the same film. Yes, we see a lot of awful things happen or being implied, but I never felt Hilditch was personifying Roland Emmerich and taking pleasure in showing the world crumbling apart in the name of spectacle with a series of token stock characters. The lawless destruction is an element, but not a central theme of the piece- the people are.
Hilditch and all involved have made an incredible dent in Australian cinema culture with “These Final Hours” and I hope with all available hope that it will see a wider audience who are looking for an apocalyptic film with courageous bite and surprising depth. Check it out and go and hug a puppy afterwards.
BT Dubs: Here’s a possible term for Australian-made apocalyptic films for ya- “Auspocalypse”.
Review written by Bea Harper