With the end of the world only hours away, the self-absorbed James (Nathan Phillips) heads to the ultimate party-to-end-all-parties. On his way there, he saves the life of a young girl named Rose (Angourie Rice) who is searching desperately for her missing father. Their relationship ultimately leads James on the path to redemption.
What would you do in the last days before the end of the world? This question has spawned an entire family of apocalyptic films, from thrillers to dramas to comedies – many of which are in cinemas right now. But the tense and exciting West Australian feature These Final Hours, written and directed by Zak Hilditch and produced by Liz Kearney, and winner of The Age Critics’ Best Australian Feature Film Award, offers a unique local perspective.
You can almost feel the air heating up and the earth dying around you.
A meteorite has crashed into the earth and as the rest of the world slowly 'peels like an orange," Perth’s inhabitants are the last to survive. A muscled and tattooed Nathan Phillips plays James, the kind of hedonistic Perth bloke who’s not a bad sort, but inclined to wipe himself out with drugs and alcohol rather than face the deeper issues of existence – like that fact that one of his two girlfriends (Jessica de Gouw) is pregnant, and will have to endure the final meltdown on her own. Hooning down the road to the party-to -end-all- parties, James is reluctantly drawn in to the rescue of a clear-eyed and plucky young girl, Rose (the extraordinarily talented 12-year-old Angourie Rice). His mission to get off his face as quickly as possible is thus brought into conflict with the desire to help the child reunite with her family before the end comes – an end, which we are told repeatedly, is 'going to hurt a lot."
Viewers who saw Hilditch’s award-winning short film Transmission – a pitch project made to develop and sell the concept for this feature – will know he’s a visual storyteller able to layer small details in a way that creates an entirely believable anarchic world – the uncollected garbage bags on nature strips; the glimpsed bodies rotting in the sun beside crashed cars; the eerily silent homes and swimming pools; and the lone radio broadcaster keeping company with the doomed. The Perth location, with its wide streets, soulless McMansions and vibrating heat is an essential part of the film’s originality – and its potential power for an Australian audience. Captured with sunburnt intensity by cinematographer Bonnie Elliott, you can almost feel the air heating up and the earth dying around you.
The film successfully completes its redemptive arc – with James moving towards altruism and acceptance – in the face of what can never be a happy ending. (Of course we keep on hoping.) One mark of a good apocalyptic story is its capacity to be read as a metaphor for the universal existential dilemma: how to live a good life and derive meaning in the face of eventual and guaranteed, albeit deferred, death. The film’s realism helps it work well on that level.
Supporting performances are excellent, especially by Lynnette Curran (as James’s calmly jigsaw-completing Mum), and Sarah Snook (as a creepily unhinged mother searching for her lost child). The film’s final act, complete with raging fireballs and passionate embraces, is less successfully realised and a little clumsy. Yet These Final Hours may be that rare beast –a low budget Australian film that could satisfy a multiplex audience in search of an edge-of-the-seat thrill.