Even before the adventures of John Cusack and his “amazing” driving skills took centre stage in 2012, it’s no secret that we’ve always had a love affair with the end of the world. I’m generally not the biggest fan of said films, which these days typically swing through various shades of Michael Bay. It’s just not my thing. Of course, that makes my job that much more difficult when you get a film like These Final Hours in your inbox. There’s been some positive buzz about Zak Hilditch’s baby, so it’s time to put on the objective hat and see if the film lives up to that talk.
James (Nathan Phillips) is an ordinary guy living in Perth, Australia. He’s also a jerk: He drinks, cheats on his girlfriend, Vicky (Kathryn Beck), neglects his mother, and is pretty irresponsible and self-centred. You would think things would change when a meteor crashes into the North Atlantic, leaving approximately twelve hours until the firestorm reaches Western Australia. But no, James ditches his responsibilities to go to “the party to end all parties”. Things change when James comes upon a young girl named Rose (Angourie Rice), who is being kidnapped. James saves Rose, and takes her with him to the party. As the two spend time together, James starts to realize what he’s done with his life so far, and what he must do to make things right in the little time that he has left.
Since this is one of those films where you know that the end result won’t be a happy one, the protagonist should be handled appropriately. Fortunately, Phillips excellently carries the role. Phillips is able to carry the evolution of James through his trying encounters to his eventual epiphany, without it to the point of being overly trite. Helping along the way is relative newcomer Rice, who acts as James’ guide through the anarchaic surroundings. She’s not the overbearing guilt-trip that some directors will use in their child actor vehicles, but is instead a gentle hand that helps James realize the important things in their situation. It’s also awesome to see Daniel Henshall making an appearance as James’ psychotic friend, Freddy (loved him in Snowtown). The rest of the cast also does quite well, including Beck as James’ abrasive, drunk girlfriend, and Lynette Curran as James’ estranged mother.
Shot on a budget of $2.5 million Australian dollars, it’s impressive to see how director Zak Hilditch and company were able to pull off something of this quality. Nothing about the film feels cheap. The hedonistic party that James attends is a perfect example. There’s a multitude of stuff going on, from the obvious orgies, to folks raving the hours away, to even a Russian roulette game. It’s absolutely bonkers, and definitely captures a realistic reaction to impending doom. Heightening things are the unique Australian locale and the decision by Director of Photography Bonnie Elliott to shoot the film using yellow filters, which makes Australia look even hotter. There’s also strength in the quieter moments, particularly in James’ reconciliation with his mother. The film switches in these moments from frenetic handheld party shots to more calm and attentive ones, very much capturing the moods of each.
These Final Hours is, however, not without it’s problems. Now, I know that if some impending worldwide doom were to occur, there would no doubt be those people who would be doing what goes on in this film: orgies, murder-suicide, getting drunk/high and partying. Problem is, Hilditch features that and little evidence of anything else. You know, the people who would be sharing their final hours together as family, having a last meal, praying, etc. As such, the film takes a serious downward tone, in spite of James and Rose’s adventure. I know that we’re supposed to focus on those two as a spot of hope amidst the doom and gloom, but the almost ridiculous imbalance is pretty depressing. Some viewers may also find the pacing of the film a bit of a chore. But this is a slow burner of a film, and not something certain directors put out to appease those looking for manic pacing.
Belying it’s low-budget, These Final Hours impresses with it’s strong acting and unique setting. The act of looking for hope in the bleakness of impending destruction isn’t something Hollywood tackles all that much, since everyone wants a feel-good ending. But life’s not like that, and kudos to Zak Hilditch for not only giving us a film that takes us on that journey (even when it boils down to that redemption story cliche), but also giving us characters that we want to see redeem themselves. It’s not something for everyone looking for a Hollywood blockbuster about the apocalypse, but it’s a nice alternative from the norm.