At Frightfest 2014, a Spanish, post-apocalyptic thriller called The Last Days stunned audiences into submission, mostly because it was such a nice surprise and nobody really thought much of it based off its nothing premise. This year, something similar happened with the similarly-themed, and similarly-executed, These Final Hours, a gorgeously-shot Australian apocalyptic disaster movie that’s part buddy comedy, part end of the world downer and packs just as much of a punch as its gorier bedfellows, such as Wolf Creek. If not even more so.
These Final Hours shares certain, notable DNA with those films, however, with Creek‘s Nathan Phillips taking the lead alongside Snowtown‘s Daniel Henshall in a supporting role. Phillips is James, a good-for-nothing, laddish type who’s cheating on his girlfriend and doesn’t care about much else aside from himself. With the end of the world looming, quite literally, he leaves his mistress alone in the house and takes off to live it up one last time at the party to end all parties.
En route, he stumbles across a young girl named Rose (played by newcomer Angourie Rice, astonishing) who’s looking for her father and, after reluctantly agreeing to let her tag along with him, the two embark on a quest to find him before the apocalypse starts proper. What transpires is a dark and often frightening buddy comedy of sorts played against the backdrop of The End Of Days that attempts to reason how people would react to the impending apocalypse, with just twelve hours to go.
Lovingly shot on location in Perth, These Final Hours is written and directed by Zak Hilditch, an up-and-coming Aussie filmmaker with just a few, small credits to his name. There’s a huge amount of skill on show here, with the scope of the project far exceeding its meagre budget. Hilditch cleverly utilises expansive landscape shots of long-abandoned places to get the feel of the end of civilisation as we know it, while radio broadcasts pop up now and again to give us updates, foregoing the need for boring character exposition.
The dynamic between James and Rose is at the heart of the movie. Natural and sweet, their interactions prove surprisingly moving at times, particularly towards the movie’s sucker punch of an ending that, thankfully, lives up to the promise of what’s come before–at least, from a stylistic perspective. Hilditch’s biggest set-piece (aside from that ending) is a party where everyone is quite literally living it up like they’re about to die tomorrow and we get to see, through Rose’s eyes, how self-destructive James has been with his own life.
What could’ve been a maudlin tale of forced self-redemption is instead bravely honest, with the writer-director unafraid to show James for the self-involved prick that he is. In fact, the movie’s weakest moments are its flashbacks to the mistress he’s left behind, which feel rammed in after the fact to provoke sympathy for him as a kind of anti-hero. The real sympathy for James, of course, comes in his gradual affection for Rose, in the suggestion that maybe, if the world weren’t ending, he could’ve made a good father.
Phillips, who did a good job in the crazy but fun Hollywood B-movie Snakes On A Plane, shines in a difficult role while Henshall, who was the nastiest bastard imaginable in Snowtown, is memorable in a brief appearance. The women get short shrift, represented mainly by James’s girlfriend and mistress (both irritating in their own ways) but in Rose we find a strong female presence to root for and, suffice to say, youngster Rice does a phenomenal job tackling her emotional journey in the harshest circumstances imaginable for a child.
These Final Hours is, at times, slightly predictable and a little corny. But it hurtles along towards a pretty spectacular, albeit devastating, crescendo at a decent enough clip, the vistas are absolutely gorgeous, it’s often scary and uncomfortable, and the two leads have an easy rhythm that means you can’t help wishing they had a better chance for survival.
WICKED RATING: [usr 6]
Director(s): Zak Hilditch
Writer(s): Zak Hilditch
Stars: Nathan Phillips, Angourie Rice, Jessica De Gouw, Daniel Henshall
Studio/ Production Co: 8th In Line
Length: 87 minutes
Sub-Genre: Disaster movie