After exiting the Sydney Premiere of Zak Hilditch’s These Final Hours, which has been on the festival circuit since the Melbourne International Film Festival last year (including a place in the Director’s Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival this year) I was overwhelmed by somewhat volatile emotion. It is difficult to explain, because my first reaction to the film was not a positive one. While the film never ceases to be compelling, I had issues with some of the filmmaking, there were continuity problems and an ending shot we have seen in another film this year. On top of that I didn't particularly enjoy the experience. The anxiety and anger that took over me resulted in me attacking, as a reflex, some elements of the film that I didn’t care for. Without much justification. This confusing emotion subsided later in the night, as I thought more about the film, and I began to realize that this sort of strong reaction is rare. I had to figure out what it all meant.
These Final Hours is an audacious and authentic apocalyptic thriller, but it also manages to be distinctly ‘Australian’ and connects with the audience on a personal level, whether you relate to these characters or not. Their behaviour is concerningly plausible, and Hilditch has absolutely nailed the details of suburban mayhem that would ensue. This is a provocative film in that it says things about the ugliness of humanity that we don’t think about day-to-day, but we know is true. The scariest thing about this sort of situation is not so much the 'threat', but the hysteria and unpredictability of others.
These Final Hours is set in Perth twelve hours before a cataclysmic event that will end all life on Earth. We learn that most of the world has already fallen victim and that the West Coast of Australia is next to be hit. Nathan Phillips (terrific) stars as James, a self-obsessed mid 20’s surfer dude. He’s the kind of jerk we shouldn’t care much about, but he is the perfect vessel into this world. We learn that he has been cheating on his girlfriend and all he wants to do is get messed up at his best mate’s (Daniel Henshall) party-to-end-all-parties and be numb for when the time comes.
But, inside all of that brash physicality and testosterone-fueled aggression is a guy compelled to do what is right. As he tries to make his way across the now-chaotic and lawless city he saves the life of a young girl named Rose (Angourie Rice), who is desperately seeking to be reunited with her father. His plans are unwillingly altered with this unexpected burden of responsibility. His initial attempts to unload her onto his sister, so he can continue onto his party and see his girlfriend (Kathryn Beck) one last time, result in a drastic change of priorities. While he never had any intention of seeing his family in his final hours, circumstance leads to the realization of what really matters to him and sets him on a path to redemption.
When watching this film you must question what you would do in these circumstances. How would you react, who would you try to be with at the end? I am fairly certain I know how I would react, but you can never be sure. I know I would not go around attacking people with a machete – the first crazy person James runs into – nor would I think of it as the opportunity to kidnap and rape a young girl. As others do. I don’t think I would commit suicide, and yet I wouldn't want to wait it out alone. You never really know. These Final Hours creates a scary situation that tests the soul of humanity - more specifically here, Generation Y - and immerses us in the self-destruction and depravity. I am intrigued by how people step up when they are under pressure and have to make a choice, and that is what is so compelling about James. He acts abnormally in a crisis, and becomes an unlikely hero.
What I didn't like so much about the film was the jarring camerawork, the erratic hand-held that offers an aesthetic texture but almost ruined the otherwise excellent party sequence at the film’s core. It is hard not to compare These Final Hours to The Rover, David Michod’s post-apocalyptic druge-fest, but I feel like this is a far more successful film. I still feel pretty angry about some of the things I witnessed in this film, but I know full well that the various reactions to the end of the world portrayed here are plausible, and I have to admire it for being so powerful as a result.
[rating=3] and a half
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
Andy Buckle is a passionate Sydney-based film enthusiast and reviewer who has built a respected online voice at his personal blog, The Film Emporium. Andy will contribute reviews, features and be our resident film festival, and awards expert.