These Final Hours
Directed by: Zak Hilditch
Starring: Nathan Philips, Jessica De Gouw, Angourie Rice
Synopsis: It's the last day on earth, twelve hours before a cataclysmic event will end life as we know it. James makes his way across a lawless and chaotic city to the party to end all parties. Along the way, he somewhat reluctantly saves the life of a little girl named Rose who is desperately searching for her father. Stuck with the unexpected burden of responsibility, James is forced to come to terms with what really matters in life as the final hours tick away. (Via Roadshow and IMDB)
About a month ago Tom and I were watching TV and saw a trailer for a seemingly big-budget Australian end-of-the-world film. If you're American I'm sure you're used to seeing trailers for your films on TV all the time, but Australian films rarely have much screen presence, unless they're a co-production with America (Daybreakers for example). A lot of other countries (especially around Asia) are very nationalistic when it comes to their home cinema but if you ask most Australians they'd say Australian cinema sucks, but that's because we so rarely see it unless we hunt it down. Instead it silently slips into cinemas and only makes a splash when it then makes waves at overseas film festivals. Which is ridiculous because we have some of the best funding schemes for filmmakers in the world, and have some of the best production and VFX companies in the world and yet your average Australian probably could only name The Castle if they were asked to name an Australian film*. But enough of a rant about film consumption and production in Australia, none of you care about that and it has zero to do with this review. Basically, Tom and I were shocked to 1) see a trailer for an Australian film on TV, 2) see that it looked like a big budget blockbuster (rather than the art house or broad comedy that usually gets made here) and 3) that we had heard absolutely nothing about it. While a lot of Australians may not know much about the films made here, we pride ourselves on getting out and seeing a lot of them. So to have never heard of this one was a little mind-boggling.
These Final Hours is basically an end-of-the-world film quite unlike most end-of-the-world films. Where most usually involve scientists or politicians or some honest hard-working American who just wants to keep driving his truck and listening to good ol' country and western music trying to thwart the coming disaster (volcano, meteor, global warming, sharknado), this movie has accepted the fact that we are fucked. We can't send some crack team of astronauts to blow up the meteor or force it to change course, we can't survive the impact and we can't even rest easy knowing that Australia is a million miles from everywhere else on the planet. Instead, because of our relative isolation we end up watching the world die. A radio announcer visits us in voice over at certain parts of the film to let us know that Canada is gone, all of South East Asia, South America. It adds a level of hopelessness that's rarely seen except in post-apocalyptic films (The Road is a perfect example) - what the hell do you do for you final 12 hours when most of the world is already dead? How do you do anything when you know that your death is looming heavily above you and that you can't do anything to change it?
For James (Nathan Philips - Wolf Creek, The Bridge), the answer is to go to one final party and get so hammered that you don't even see or feel the end coming. Others turn to suicide, to looting, to God, to living out the deviant acts that they repressed (or perhaps always did, but did under the cover of night) before they knew the world was over. The first 10 minutes of the film shows James driving through Perth to get to his party and passing over-turned cars, dead people lying on the road, people clutching each other in prayer circles and desperate attempts to survive the impending doom (wrapping the house in aluminium foil - to stop the heat?). James ignores the people calling for help as he drives to his destination, until an altercation with a mad man with a machete forces him to ditch his car and run to find a new one. This is where he finds Rose, a young girl who has been abducted by two of the grossest men you'll ever see. These are the guys who have chosen to live their final hours by ruining the final moments of others. James may be apathetic to the situation at large, but even he can't ignore the cries of a small girl about to be viciously attacked. The rest of the film is part road film, part drama, part thriller and a lot more nuanced than I expected. It's a film of choices. James has to choose between his original plan for oblivion or to help Rose find her father so she can face the end with him. Does he leave her at her dad's car and hope he returns, or does he take her with him? Does he leave her with his sister, or does he take her to her aunt's? How exactly does he want to end his life and does it even matter? All the while the end of the world is creeping closer.
This movie, especially the opening 10-20 minutes made me think of the film The Purge. The Purge is incredibly lopsided and while the basic conceit is interesting (one night where crime is legal a year) it is handled really poorly. You just cannot make me believe that people who are so happy to go out and murder and rape would be willing to hold off for 364 days of the year. Nor can you make me believe that the effects of this free for all, vandalism and looting and the destruction of homes and businesses doesn't cripple local economies. Unlike The Purge, These Final Hours places that basic concept into a more believable setting. Are people necessarily going on murder sprees? No, but when you know the world is ending and you life has a very clear expiration date your emotions would be boiling over. Would you maybe go to far when you fight with someone over a petrol pump? Maybe someone throws a bottle at you and you react instinctively, releasing all of your frustration and fears as you punch the person over and over. Rather than have people just randomly moving past the moral taboo of murder without a second thought, you show the very likely events that transpire when people are being ruled by fear and fuelled by alcohol or drugs or whatever they choose to use to cope with the world crumbling around them. It's raw and ugly and depressing as hell, but it made for a compelling film.
From the trailer (placed at the end of the review for anyone interested) I hadn't expected this film to be as Australian as it was. But despite the bells and whistles it's still as depressing as all Australian drama. I mean, if you find The Road depressing, welcome to Australian cinema. We defined the concept of bleak and our landscape helps reinforce that. It's desolate and sparse and if you expect anyone to be alive at the end of an Australian drama... ha ha you're cute. But they always manage to raise some intriguing ideas and questions, usually unique to Australia. Isolation is a common theme in Australian films because we are a very isolated country. We're cut of from the rest of the world by oceans and we're cut off from each other by distance. People aren't lying when they joke about their nearest neighbour being 5 kilometres away. If you aren't in a Capital city, you're surrounding by a whole lot of space and not a lot else. So the fact that this film takes that inherent truth of our national identity, that we're alone, and magnifies it so we literally become the last people left on the planet hits incredibly hard. Can you think of anything that would make you shut down faster than knowing every other country, every island, every person on the planet is gone?
These Final Hours is written and directed by a relative newcomer and is remarkably tight considering that. There are a few hiccups with pacing and some of the dialogue but for the most part the film is a remarkably sombre and thought-provoking thriller** with some absolutely gorgeous cinematography. I have no idea if or when this film will be released overseas, but if you get the chance I'd highly recommend giving it a watch.
If you want to know a little more, the interactive website is really well made and definitely worth a visit. It adds a little context to the film's setting as well, which isn't crucial to viewing the film but definitely adds some extra dimension.
*So if an Australian tells you there aren't any good Aussie films slap them in the face and tell them to do their homework. I could give them a list of 50 films off the top of my head that are made in Australia and shit all over anything else made worldwide.
**Is it a thriller? That's how it's classified on IMDB but I think it actually falls closer to drama.