Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Director: Zak Hilditch
Screenplay: Zak Hilditch
Runtime: 87 minutes.
Cast: Nathan Phillips, Jessica De Gouw, Angourie Rice, Sarah Snook.
Trailer: “How would you spend your final hours on Earth?” (warning: not by watching this, surely.)
Plot: The world is about to end, and James must make a decision to stay with his lover or enjoy his final hours at a friend’s party to end all parties. What he encounters during his journey to said celebrations is not pretty; with the population reverting to a state of barbarism. James saves Rose, a young girl separated from her father, and decides to perform one last, good act in reuniting them.
Review: It is a rather strange thing to watch one’s hometown burn to the ground; but this is the central conceit of the Perth-made and shot These Final Hours. While our colleagues in the US are calmly used to destruction being rained down on their cities (usually from giant robots/aliens), it is a new experience for Australians – with our apocalypse sagas generally being set in the already inhospitable desert, usually for budget reasons. Not so for writer-director Zak Hilditch’s film, which asks the question what would a bunch of absolute bogans do with their final hours on this Earth, prior to inescapable annihilation? The answer is not pretty, nor interesting.
The problems start with lead James (Nathan Phillips), whom we meet in flagrante delicto with his mistress Zoe, before he decides to spend his final hours away from her and at a bogan bacchanalia with girlfriend Vicky. Not the most noble of introductions; however, we are asked to sympathise with our hero over the next 87 minutes as he encounters one obstacle after another in his quest for a brief, alcohol fuelled Nirvana before the end is nigh. This is complicated by young girl Rose (Angourie Rice), who is abducted by unleashed sexual predators and is just barely rescued in time by James. Thus begins his redemption; as he attempts to reunite her with her family. Angourie Rice gives an outstanding and dynamic performance as the young Rose, unfortunately contrasting with the wooden and meat-headed range of Nathan Phillips. While the audience might genuinely want to see young Rose safe (and one threatening party scene is almost too much to take), they probably won’t care if it is at James’ expense. Special mention should also be made of Lynette Curran, who turns in an excellent, understated performance as James’ mum in an otherwise thankless role.
Thus the simple emotional stakes of the film are set; as well as the nagging and inevitable question of whether James will return to his mistress, now left alone at the local beach. To clumsily emphasise this, the scene between James and Zoe that opens the film is endlessly replayed and lengthened, repeating the same material and testing the patience of the audience who already know where that plot is predictably headed. This is counterpointed by the world’s most maudlin disc jockey who inexplicably persists in his role right up to the final minutes, an intercut radio broadcast that has no significant commentary to add to the film and comes off as an especially amateurish touch on top of script already in trouble. If you found the end of the world in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia too gentile, then These Final Hourshas plenty of expected shocks and bad behaviour to jolt you awake. Apart from a repetitive, superficial litany of dialogue in contemplation of God, the film attempts to document all possible forms of let-loose bad behaviour one usually finds in straight-to-video horror releases. But the problem remains that you will have seen them all before – making the film a poor, mangled photocopy of every other apocalyptic shocker you have already seen. There’s a lot of suicide; suggesting that at some point Hilditch ran out of ideas and imagination, but still had several mandatory speed-bump encounters to fill an already short running time.
The dialogue is interminable, consisting almost entirely of ‘hey, piss off,’ ‘get the fuck away,’ and their many common Australian variations (and we have many). Hero James gets thoroughly battered throughout the film but remains unstoppable, drinking like a man trapped at a friend’s one man show, with hilarious hair perfectly in place for the duration. A lowlight of the film arrives when James finally reaches his Nirvana, finding it does not measure up to his expectations as it spirals wildly out of control. Kathryn Beck appears as unsympathetic girlfriend Vicky, delivering one of the shrillest and most overblown performances in the history of Australian cinema; delivering such classic lines as ‘least you could do is make me cum’ on discovering James has contracted coke dick (or a sense of remorse, it’s unclear) and is unable to perform. Yes, that’s right – These Final Hours belongs to the Californication school of lowest common sexual denominator, and similarly wastes away the goodwill of the audience on increasingly flaccid encounters.
However, one line of dialogue deserves praise for its startling originality, poetry, and force – on explaining the apocalypse, rescued Rose remarks that the Earth’s surface will ‘fall away like an orange peel.’ Beautiful, and entirely out of character from the rest of the script.
Every Australian should be proud to champion our cinema, and recent outstanding films such as The Rover have justified that support. But These Final Hours is a film best skipped; offering nothing new on a tired conceit. The approaching apocalypse has become something like the mythical Gyges in our time; whereas in Plato’s telling it questions what is Right, Good, and Meaningful if one is able to escape all consequences, ours simply asks how we would behave if the tomorrow of consequences never came. Over the gap of two and a half millennia, the answer has sadly changed – while in times before we might have been Pelagians believing in the fundamental good of our nature, today we are Augustinians ‘for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth.’ But none of these thoughts, or others, exist within the universe of Hilditch’s script – indeed, his poorly drawn and predictably directed characters seem to have few thoughts at all.
Rating: One and a half stars of fiery indifference to the fates of Malaga, Mirrabooka, Morley, Midland…