These Final Hours is a disaster movie that’s intelligent, gloomy and utterly melancholy, but below the surface, it doesn’t push hard enough to be all that it should be. The world is going to end. We know this because an asteroid has thundered into the Atlantic and the blast wave is steadily working its way to Australia. This premise is refreshing. The people of Perth have packed up and made preparations. They’ve been given 12 hours. What you can expect from this situation, the movie delivers — wild orgies are rampant; desperate families are committing euthanasia; the insane are lunging around with pistols and machetes; the loners have holed themselves up in their houses, making peace with God and hoping death comes swiftly. What the movie fails to deliver is the deep, dark, penetrating fear of death. There is only one character who has a break down, and even then it might be a result of drugs.
Our hero is James (Nathan Phillips), who begins the movie as the villain. The girl he’s seeing, Zoe (Jessica De Gouw), is pregnant, but he wants nothing to do with her or the baby. So he leaves to find his true girlfriend Vicky (Kathryn Beck), who’s tucked away in someone’s enormous backyard, enjoying Australia’s biggest end-of-the-world party. He must find her. He must have that one last great romp in the sack, and then he can die with an exhausted grin.
But there are complications along his route, like disobedient cars, road blocks, psychos, and a young rape victim who comes under his care and teaches him the softer side of life. Her name is Rose (Angourie Rice), and she wants to return to her father, whose only wish is for them to be together when the end comes. She wants to go this way. James wants to go that. What with this plan failing and that plan turning in on itself, they end up spending more time together than either of them would’ve liked.
These Final Hours is a disaster movie, but it is not about the disaster. The asteroid is the MacGuffin. It is the catalyst and the judge. Much of the focus is on the relationship between James and Rose, who adopt a quasi-buddy chemistry as they traverse the deserted Perth landscape.
Phillips breaks open with a warm vulnerability. The magic of his performance is that we never accept him as a selfish prick. We are convinced there is more to him; that there has always been more to him. His addictions almost seem contrived next to his burning passion for true love. When he reunites with Vicky, the match is vile, as if James picked her up at a brothel and forgot to return her. Vicky’s brother is also a mismatch. The entire party that holds the movie’s second act together doesn’t quite fit with everything else. This, I think, is a blessing. The party is meant to turn James away, back to Zoe and into the arms of redemption. Whether he makes it is a secret best left unsaid.
And so the story goes, languid but sure. The hours count down and the radio DJ giving the updates sounds a lot like Ben Stein doing Dr. Neuman. We are waiting to see the blast wave. We don’t want to be disappointed, neither do we want our characters to circumvent certain death. This is a movie where projected outcomes must meet at the end. If they don’t, the audience will no longer believe and the illusion will disintegrate.
The film is written and directed by Zak Hilditch, who used to teach at Curtin University where I studied and mentored me in my very first practical unit. There is an odd sense of realisation, watching the film, knowing the streets and the suburb names, seeing downtown Perth in flames. Hilditch has managed to nestle familiarity in unchartered territory, and the look of his film, quite rightly, is bleak and uninviting. It’s as if the film is aware of its own impending calamity.
But I go back to the fear of dying. I feel there should have been more panic and less partying. Characters faced with certain death in the movies never seem shaken up by it. They are never fazed or terrified. James and Rose are surprisingly calm for two wayward souls bound to a train that will lead them both to the same horrific destination. Maybe acceptance has transcended their fear and elevated them to a calmer state of being.
Best Moment | James driving away from Rose, leaving her alone to face death while he moves on. Very powerful.
Worst Moment | Nope.