One can’t help but admire the ambition of writer/director Zak Hilditch in bringing These Final Hours to the screen, even if the execution is lacking somewhat at times. Whilst the film shares many similarities, particularly visually, with post-apocalyptic movies such The Road or 28 Days Later – albeit there are neither zombies nor cannibals anywhere to be seen – this story is actually set in the hours before armageddon, very much akin to the 1959 made-in-Australia Hollywood production On the Beach. With Nathan Phillips in the lead role as the somewhat self-absorbed James, These Final Hours is exactly that; the final hours of life for the people of Perth, Western Australia. Created on a miniscule (by today’s standards) $2.5 million budget, These Final Hours is certainly concise at just 86 minutes and whilst Hilditch has made good use of the available funds in presenting a version of Perth never before seen on screen, my engagement with the film was compromised by a distinct lack of tension (perhaps due to the sense of inevitability that pervades the action) and a group of characters that it is almost impossible to care much about.
Phillips (Wolf Creek, You and Your Stupid Mate) is serviceable enough as James, a young man who abandons Zoe (Jessica de Gouw), the woman carrying his never-to-be-born baby, to spend his final hours on earth at a hedonistic party across town at which is other girlfriend Vicki (Kathryin Beck) is waiting. Of course, myriad obstacles intervene along the way, including several encounters with crazed citizens who, devoid of any hope, are seemingly intent on destroying each other. In one such encounter, James rescues a young girl named Rose (Angourie Rice) from the clutches of two predators and reluctantly finds himself responsible for returning her to her family. Needless to say, his initial disinclination to assist beyond removing her from immediate danger is swept aside as the pair develop an emotional connection. Whilst the abandoned streets are eerily effective and there are some really nice touches, such as the wall constructed of shopping trolleys that serves as the initial obstacle that sets James’ trajectory into motion.
It is the characters that let the film down because almost everybody we meet is strange, but never in an endearing way. Given the effort expended in getting there, the party is actually the weakest part of the film. Yes, the idea that people might decide to spend their final hours imbibing all manner of substances and engaged in myriad sexual shenanigans seems reasonable enough, but the problem is that the only characters we meet here are utterly unlikeable; so much so that the end of the world would be preferable to spending any more time with them. Freddy (Daniel Henshall), the host of this orgiastic farewell bash, is James’ grotesque, psychotic best friend, while Vicki is presented as nothing more than a shrill nut job consumed by jealousy and fear. There is not an ounce of subtlety or nuance in either of these individuals. Even the usually reliable Lynette Curran struggles to bring much verisimilitude to her role as James’ mother.
Yes, the fact that young Rose is exposed to all of the debauchery, including a game of Russian roulette that ends badly for one participant, is provocative, but it seems as though Hilditch was reluctant to really push the envelope with regard to sex or violence, which would be fine if the film was stronger in other areas. The end result is a film that is too slow moving at times to work as a thriller or an action piece and lacks sufficient depth as a character study; after all, we never really find out anything much about James and therefore don’t really care too much about where he ends up or with whom he will spend his final moments. With a radio DJ voice-over (David Field) used as the device by which we are kept informed about how much time remains, typical race-against-the-clock clichés abound, such as a car breaking down at the most inopportune time.
On the plus side, 12-year-old Rice is terrific as Rose, bringing much more complexity to her character than any of her adult co-stars, which may, of course, have more to do with the screenplay than the performances. On a technical level, the film bats well above its meagre budget, with Bonnie Elliott’s cinematography and Emma Bortignon’s sound design both eerily effective in creating a sense of unease and abandonment in the suburbs of Perth. Furthermore, the final frames, in which the advancing tsunami of fire descends on the Australian coast, are actually quite impressive; it’s just a shame that the journey through These Final Hours to reach this point wasn’t more riveting.