These Final Hours (2013): Australian Apocalyptic Masterpiece

James and Rose in These Final Hours
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.

Housebound (2014) Hysterical New Zealand Horror

Poster for Housebound
It is no secret that I adore both Australian and New Zealand cinema, specifically horror. An eternal favorite of straight horror is the 1978, and its 2008 remake, Long Weekend. While the Aussies are adept at making scary films that get right under your skin, the Kiwis have a knack for comedy horror that will make you jump, but more importantly, will make you laugh till the tears roll. Black Sheep, the 2006 film that made genetic experimentation with sheep scary and funny, has now been joined by Housebound.

This urban setting, versus the rural one of Black Sheep, deals with troublemaker Kylie Bucknell who is placed under house arrest, or more accurately confinement, after being caught stealing a cash box from an ATM with her boyfriend. The film promises to be funny from the first few frames when Bucknell’s accomplice knocks himself out with the recoil from a sledgehammer that he ineffectually smacks the money machine with.

Kylie must return to her mum’s house for eight months whilst tagged. The tag monitor, Amos comes to her house to fit the device to her ankle and explain how the whole thing will work. While she must come to terms with living at home again and coping with her annoying mother Miriam, Kylie learns the house is haunted and that the place she grew up in was the scene of a brutal murder.

Amos initially helps the two women try to solve their ghost problem and then tries to help Kylie solve the 14 year old murder.

Morgana O’Reilly, an alumnus of the long running Australian soap Neighbours turns in a brilliantly diverse performance as the teen tearaway with mum issues. Her Kylie can make the viewer crease up, as when she acts completely gormless when Amos explains how he will help the family solve their ghost problem, or keep the audience on the edge of their seat during the more tense moments.

The comedy in Housebound is outstanding. Taking a dental plate from a sleeping suspect’s mouth, a murderer being attacked with a cheese grater, and a tag monitor being caught by what looks like a bear trap are all just part of the comic events in this film.

Rim Te Wiata from another long running Aussie soap, Sons and Daughters, as well as Full Frontal and Shortland Street plays mum Miriam and also turns in an admirable comic performance. Glen-Paul Waru is spot on as Amos, the tag monitor, ghost hunter and all round helpful official who lends a hand to the family.

The film shifts easily from one event to the next. At one point in the film, Miriam and Kylie are explaining that the house is haunted. Amos has turned up because the ankle bracelet alarm indicated that the teen had left the premises. The second that the tag monitor learns of the haunting, he immediately switches to paranormal investigator.

A big shout out to Cameron Rhodes as Dennis. This experienced actor, who boasts credits in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring as well as The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, turns in a brilliant performance.

Housebound is the feature length debut of Gerard Johnstone who wrote and directed the film. He has managed to subtly shift comedy, mystery and horror almost efortlessly in what is one of the best comedy horror films I have seen in ages. It is streaming on US Netflix at the moment and I cannot recommend this movie enough. A real 5 out of 5 stars as all concerned hit every mark.

31 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Long Weekend: Horror in the Outback

Directed by  Colin Eggleston (b:1941 – d:2002) Long Weekend is a piece of low budget genius.  This was only the second feature film helmed by Eggleston and despite the fact that the film bombed in Australia, it went on to win five awards. Part of the reason the film did so badly was probably down to the public placing it in the category of “Ozploitation.”

 John Hargreaves and Briony Behets play Peter and Marcia a young urban couple who are going on holiday. We notice very quickly that Peter and Marcia are a “chalk and cheese” couple. Peter has decided that they are going to ‘rough it’ on a beach in the outback. Marcia has her heart set on staying in a nice hotel somewhere. Somewhat begrudgingly Marcia agrees to try the camping trip idea, but with the proviso that if she really doesn’t like it they can spend the rest of the holiday in a hotel.

From the minute they get into their Jeep and start driving, we the audience can feel the tension between the couple. This tension fluctuates through most of the film and even before Peter runs over a ‘Joey’ leaving it to die in the road, we get a sense of foreboding. A feeling that this trip is not really a good idea.

Long Weekend is mostly a “fish-out-of-water” film. Peter and Marcia do not belong in the countryside.  City dwellers first and foremost they really have no idea what they should be doing once they reach their ‘supposed’ destination.  On their way to the beach they get lost, mainly because the locals at the petrol station do not go out of their way to give them directions, but also because they are careless.

Both Peter and Marcia have a complete disregard about the wildlife they encounter and it’s  natural habitat. John Hargreaves as Peter shows us a man who is basically selfish and immature. He thinks nothing of killing the local flora and fauna or leaving his litter scattered about the previously pristine area.

Brioney Behets (who was married to the director at the time) gives Marcia an edge, a feeling of loss and the willingness to bridge the distance between her and Peter. Initially we sympathize Marcia but unfortunately she suffers from the same problems as Peter, selfishness and immaturity. She also has little respect or knowledge of how the countryside works. They are both completely out of their comfort zone and it shows. But only Marcia is smart enough to vocalise her fear and distaste of the great outdoors.

The only time in the film the two characters unite is in their mutual fear of a huge black shape in the water. Marcia hears a downright scary cry or call from an unknown animal. She goes down to the beach to tell Peter and she sees the black shape moving towards him. Marcia begins screaming hysterically for Peter to get out of the water. Peter, in true urban fashion, shoots the black shape repeatedly.

I can honestly say that when I first watched this film, it made me so uneasy that even I did not want to venture into the great outdoors and I grew up there. The sense of foreboding that we feel at the beginning of the film hits fever pitch after the couple arrive at their destination.  When nature begins to exact a toll from the couple for their criminal behaviour, fever pitch rises to a frenzy.

Long Weekend was remade in 2008 and it is almost a complete frame for frame re-imaging, of the original, but the remake, believe it or not, cranks up the action considerably. It is one of the few remakes that I enjoyed as much as the original.

But I leave you with one request, if at all possible, watch the original first.