These Final Hours is Australian writer director Zak Hilditch throwing down a gauntlet to the end of the world genre in the most ‘Aussie’ way possible. He may as well have impersonated Paul Hogan’s Crocodile Dundee; “that’s not an apocalypse; this is the APOCALYPSE.” A meteorite plummets to earth in the Atlantic and a magma tsunami begins enveloping and extinguishing life on earth. We join lovers James (Nathan Phillips) and Zoe (Jessica De Gouw) in Perth, Western Australia with twelve hours left to live. While Zoe wants to stay in her beach house and await the end, James can’t fathom staring out to the horizon counting down the seconds to nothingness. He decides instead to head to an end of the world party to numb himself to cope with oblivion.
Hilditch’s debut is one of the most intense films that I’ve ever experienced. Humanity without consequence devolves into the basest form of itself. It tracks through James’ journey exclusively but along the way you get a taste for the very best and worst of humanity faced with a literal and unforgiving full stop. The violence is jarring to the point of writhing in your seat; bones implode into organs with blunt force and you’ll witness, literal, middle of the road machete butchery. The debilitating glare of the Western Australian sun will have you squinting at the screen as you’re wound into James’ headspace and the frenetic camera moves like the heart rate of the film. It shakes with fear, swirls in overwhelming defeat and when it’s still there’s a spine-tingling anticipation that our characters are mice being circled by an eagle.
Hilditch’s writing gets to the primordial. In the first moments we’re introduced to James and Zoe they’re in a sweaty, passionate embrace trying to get lost in each other. De Gouw’s Zoe is etched with melancholic acceptance, attempting to comfort Phillips’ James. There’s a devastating moment of pillow talk, two lovers imagining their future together however instead of a lifetime of infinite roads, there’s mere hours to exist. James self-medicates and begins his trek through the once peaceful streets of suburbia now a veritable mine field of violence, religious hysteria and death. If it’s not huddled prayer groups it’s a machete wielding madman looking to hack passers-by limb from limb without consequence. James’ biggest challenge though is encountering Rose (Angourie Rice). This little innocent is separated from her father and swooped up by two wretched scumbags. James, searching for a new vehicle stumbles upon these villains taking a shrieking Rose into a house. The once vibrant suburban neighbourhood is now an oppressive ghost town, unperturbed by the disgusting act that’s about to unfold. Hilditch put Rose into some of the most horrifically affective and hair raising danger forcing James into deciding to shelter her.
Phillips is ‘out of this world’ fantastic. He tries desperately to escape his overwhelming good, but he cannot. In grief, panic and determination to live out the final hours of his life; Phillips delivers a powerful performance. Hilditch draws an astute performance from Rice. Rice’s Rose forms a superb contrast to the encroaching doom, filled with a hesitation and hope despite the fact that they continue to traipse through the mine field. Rose’s ordeal shook me up. Not since Schindler’s List have I ever seen children witness or experience such barbarity. There is one scene in particular involving mind altering substances that is a wondrous perversion.
Daniel Henshall’s Freddy, the ring leader of the party to end all parties is the perfect, ‘goldfish memory,’ impulsive force drugged to the gills and wielding a huge pistol like a conductor’s baton. The throbbing electro music scores the convulsing orgy that he’s constructed. Henshall is so magnetic; with mere moments he has a profound impact. Sarah Snook is essentially unrecognisable as ‘Mandy’s mum,’ a crazed party goer that’s been separated from her child and her senses. Snook’s lost mother encounters Rose and lures her into heinous acts. She’s a cold, living wraith – madness incarnate.
As James is barrelling along the mostly deserted roadways to his destinations we check in on the demise of the rest of the world. Hilditch makes a spectacular choice for David Field’s ‘radio man’ to form the grizzled countdown of the film. Hearing him broadcast with the idea that there’s potentially no-one out just gives you a lump in your throat.
The thought of the end of not just your life but all life is unfathomable. These Final Hours renders an abject apocalypse; and yet the last glimpses of humanity are dazzling.
[rating=4] and a half
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Zak Hilditch
Written by: Zak Hilditch
Starring: Nathan Phillips, Jessica De Gouw, Angourie Rice, Sarah Snook, Daniel Henshall, David Field,