Written and directed by Zak Hilditch (Plum Role, Transmission), this 2013 Australian apocalyptic masterpiece, These Final Hours, is a slow jarring yet beautiful look at one man’s last day on Earth after a meteor has slammed into the North Atlantic. As the film starts, “all of Western Europe is gone” as the resultant firestorm caused by the collision marches its way across the globe.
James (Nathan Phillips) has sex with one girlfriend and after drinking tequila, snorting coke and telling her that he cannot face the pain, the young man takes off to an “end of the world” party where his best mate and other girlfriend will be. A crazy man with a machete hijacks James and his car and after he makes his escape, he sees two men have kidnapped a young girl and they take her into their house.
He goes to steal their van and after an internal struggle, decides to save the girl. Rose (Angourie Rice) is an 11 year-old who got separated from her father and she is desperate to get back to him. Once these two meet up, the rest of the film follows their journey and it is their chemistry which helps to move the story along.
These Final Hours is a somber look at one young man’s painful realization that he has wasted his young life. Throughout the movie, James is constantly taken away from his single-minded search to numb the pain of dying by a number of obstacles, the biggest being Rose. While the 20 something Australian “Jack the lad” type discovers that he has made all the wrong decisions in his life, he helps Rose and learns from an 11 year-old girl what the right course of action is for him.
The performances in this film are simply brilliant. Phillips as “everyman” James, who has a propensity to be a bit shallow and self centered, rocks it. His self absorption is tinged with desperation and each time he reaches a fork in his immediate journey, he reacts accordingly, albeit reluctantly. Despite starting out as an unlikeable chap, Phillips enables us to eventually get behind him and support his hesitant moves to do the right thing before he, and the rest of the world, die.
Angourie Rice, who was nominated for best actress for her performance as Rose, is a real throwback to the days of Hayley Mills. Rice, who makes one think of Mills during her Disney years, first started her acting career in 2012 on another Zac Hilditch film Transmissions. While one could compare the young actress to later young performers, like Dakota Fanning or her sister Elle, the youngster has an old fashioned and more vulnerable style than the Fanning sisters and she is more reminiscent of Mills.
The double act of Rose and James keeps the focus on what is important to both of them. Rose never loses sight of her goal; reuniting with dad. James initially just wants to make the party that his best mate Freddy is throwing. Once there, he finally learns what is really important and he has to save Rose from a crazy who believes that the girl is her daughter Mandy, the woman (Sarah Snook) gives the child a pill which makes her sick.
The entire journey of James and Rose is fraught, touching and thoughtful. Throughout most of the film, Rose is the adult, although she can revert to delightful childhood in a nanosecond. At one point, James goes to his sister’s apartment. The building has a pool and as he wants to search for his three nieces and their mother, he tells Rose to go for a swim. “But I don’t have my bathers,” she says. “Just go in your dress,” James says. “Really??” Rose is clearly delighted that she can go for a swim in her clothes.
These moments between the self centered young man who has deserted his one pregnant girlfriend and the innocent Rose make this film work. Hilditch does show a myriad of different ways that people would react to the end of the world. Suicides, mindless partying and sex, murdering family members, prayer, and so on but it is his focus on these two that really works.
In James’ case, he lives almost a lifetime of experience. He grows up, becomes a father, hero and loving partner before the film ends. Rose gets her wish and is able to send James on his way.
It is no secret that I adore Australian cinema. While most films that catch my eye are of the low/no budget horror variety, Long Weekend, The Loved Ones, The Babadook, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, et al, there are other offerings, such as this one that become instant favorites.
Perhaps a steady diet of Australian soap operas on Dutch television helps to develop a taste for Aussie acting and actors that one never quite loses. Whatever the reason, these films set in the outback, like Picnic at Hanging Rock or the more urban 54 Days (another apocalyptic film) all feature storylines and characters that are mesmerizing and addictive.
These Final Hours is a thoughtful look at one man’s journey at the end of the world. Great stuff and much better than a lot of other, bigger budgeted, films about the end. This is a 5 out of 5 stars for originality and for bringing the awesomely talented young Angourie Rice and Nathan Phillips together. Zak Hilditch has brought us a wonderfully odd and touching end of the world picture that fans of Australian cinema should not miss.