The horror genre has practically become synonymous with paranormal overtones, with 2013 alone begetting titles like The Conjuring and Evil Dead which involve chilling supernatural occurrences to generate scares. But 2014’s These Final Hours is a different type of genre movie. It’s definitely a horror flick, but its scares are not derived from ghosts or demons, but rather from its depiction of the ugly side of human nature in the face of a societal collapse. It’s an apocalypse film on a dime, eschewing images of large-scale global destruction to present a focused depiction of suburban meltdown on the eve of the world’s end. These Final Hours works because it’s not about the apocalypse per se – rather, it’s a tale about people dealing with the knowledge of the impending disaster. The result is powerful and not easily forgotten, and may compel you to mull over what you would do on Earth’s final day.
Set at an unspecified time presumably not far into the future, the end of the world has arrived, with the planet being gradually “peeled like an orange” following a devastating meteorite strike. The film is set in Western Australia, where mere hours remain until the end is upon them. Society has crumbled, giving rise to anarchy on the streets, with suicides, looting and murder everywhere in sight. Leaving his mistress to attend a party, James (Nathan Phillips) encounters utter chaos everywhere he goes, and happens upon a group of thugs who’ve kidnapped innocuous young girl Rose (Angourie Rice). In a stroke of guilt, James rescues Rose, and seeks to return the frightened child to her family. It’s not an easy task, however, and James finds himself conflicted about how to spend his final hours of life.
By eschewing a stereotypical Roland Emmerich approach, These Final Hours isn’t a spectacle but rather a gripping, wholly plausible portrait of the end of the world, reflecting what is more likely to occur in the event of an apocalypse. Writer-director Zak Hilditch ladles on the horrific elements, observing the effects of looting and pillaging in a world without order, and even finding armed criminals relishing the opportunity to lay down their own laws. Suicides are rampant as well, with Hilditch staging scenes that may give people nightmares. These Final Hours is not for the faint of heart, with heavy thematic undercurrents and disturbing imagery, but it’s also surprisingly touching as well. Hilditch filters the story through the point of view of James and Rose, grounding the story in humanity as we tour the apocalyptic atrocities. James initially wants to spend his final hours drinking and partying, but comes to appreciate what means the most to him in life, and such a character arc is incredibly affecting. These Final Hoursdoes not introduce any false hope – this is not a story about trying to prevent the apocalypse, but rather an intimate story of redemption in times of chaos. It’s a clichéd notion, sure, but it doesn’t diminish the movie’s impact.
Not all of These Final Hours is entirely successful, though; an early vignette spotlighting a crazed maniac with a machete may provoke unintentional laughter, as it’s played a bit too broadly. Plus, once the finish line is in sight, Hilditch introduces an additional complication that feels utterly forced, and not all of the dialogue works. (As destructive forces descends upon the Western Australia coast, one character exclaims “It’s beautiful!“) Nevertheless, These Final Hours is often compelling thanks to the technical sleight of hand. By limiting the story’s sense of scope, Hilditch never lets the picture out of his control, crafting smaller scenes of murderous turmoil and rampant immorality with incredible flair. There is much to admire about Hilditch’s construction of the picture, compensating for lack of budget with sheer inventiveness. These Final Hours carries an orange hue in its visuals to convey the intense heat and the encroaching wall of fire, and the sound design is both effective and atmospheric. The movie doesn’t feel cheap at all.
To Australian audiences, Nathan Phillips is perhaps best known for his turn in Wolf Creek back in 2005, though he has since appeared in movies like Snakes on a Plane and Balibo. His performance here is incredibly robust, communicating a wide swatch of emotions with seemingly little effort. Phillips sells his character’s conflicted nature throughout, not to mention his fear, and it’s to his credit that he’s so likeable and sympathetic as well. But even better is young Angourie Rice, who’s a revelation as Rose. She retains her childhood innocence, yet she’s also a nuanced actor, submitting a performance beyond her years.
Do not watch These Final Hours expecting a pleasant viewing experience, as it’s uncompromising in its brutal violence and ugly behaviour. There’s not a lot of replay value as a consequence, and the experience is a bit rough around the edges, but it still deserves to be seen. Recalling the likes of The Road and 28 Days Later… with a hint of Mad Max, it’s one of the most riveting Aussie movies in years, showing that a sizeable budget is not always necessary to tell a powerful story or create sheer, visceral terror.