There’s a great, cheeky line in Pauline Kael’s review of Days of Heaven where she describes the film with: “you can hang all your old metaphors on it.”You might be surprised to see a Days of Heaven mention in a review of the Australian apocalypse thriller These Final Hours, but rest assured the comparisons stop there. These Final Hours seems like a rack with a turned post to hang allusions to survival-horror movies like 28 Days Later, The Last of Us, The Road- including a final image that drags the ones of Melancholia, Take Shelter, Sunshine, and even the recent Pompeii into its orbit.
These Final Hours is a patchwork of survivalist thrillers- most of them superior to what’s going on here- before it can seriously be discussed on its own terms. That’s not to say homage- even blatant artistic theft- cannot be good (we wouldn’t have A Fistful of Dollars, or basically any movie by a millennial filmmakerif it wasn’t!), but it also requires inspiration. That’s what These Final Hours is obviously lacking. In spite of its slim 87-minute runtime, the movie amounts to idle minutes.
The setting is Perth, Western Australia on the cusp of imminent disaster. James (Nathan Phillips) is on his way, after one incredibly pointless sex scene with ruffled-up girlfriend Zoe (Jessica De Gouw), to the party of all parties. The kind of celebration that takes the beachside mayhem in Spring Breakers and the frat-boy madhouse in Project X to school and back again.
Since writer and director Zak Hilditch is not an expert at subtlety (not to mention tone), he handles James’following bender to this last hurrah like it is the film’s climax (or maybe because…he just reached his- har, har). The sequence carries too much unmotivated faux-urgency merely meant to convey James’delirious state of mind by courtesy of alcoholism and an unchecked death wish. Yes, James is a booze hound–aren’t all antiheroes? James takes a swig of whiskey while manning his vehicle as Cornel Wilczek’s intrusive score announces its fury. The scene is laughably overwrought and an early indication that this won’t be prime Cormac McCarthy mining territory.
Before arriving at the party, James takes a detour to save a little girl named Rose (Angourie Rice) from two local ruffians. Despite the apocalypse, James still has a conscience and that’s why Rose trusts him–and we’re supposed to, too. While I take full responsibility for my recent dismissal of playing video games, I’ll readily admit that the surrogate father-daughter relationship in The Last of Us holds way more interest than the one in These Final Hours. Hilditch’s screenplay doesn’t offer an interesting reason why James should be a father figure. The functionality of their relationship neither develops nor does it threaten to dissolve. This is basic conflict stuff, something this writer-director doesn’t flesh out.
Hilditch buys too readily into the fatalism of this premise. Since destruction is inevitable- the need to develop the characters, craft interesting moments, or basically anything to pull audiences in emotionally is thrown out the window. As a result, the filmmaker doesn’t earn the sentimentality he’s clearly looking for in one key departure sequence near the end of the picture. By then, we’re so numbed by the clichés and auto-pilot storytelling that we can only nod our heads wearily in passive appreciation of what Hilditch is tryingto achieve.
The party sequence is the only stretch of These Final Hours that might occupy the attention of viewers. The gated shindig is a terrifyingly festive combination of violence and sexual acts. Because when hopelessness is all humanity has left, the id runs rampant and acts on every crazed impulse. It’s basically a modern-day Sodom and Gomorra: a bacchanal of massive orgies all the way to Deer Hunter-like Russian roulette rings.
It’s clear that James opposes this type of reaction to Judgment Day and cares more about holding onto whatever vestiges of morality remain. But James’sense of righteousness- unaided by Phillips’bland performance- is perceived at such a neutral level, that the movie never makes us feel like he’s a phoenix rising from the ash. There’s no desperate thirst for redemption in his character- no spiritual conviction. You will be forced to ask yourself, like many of the film’s apathetic Aussies on one-way death trips: what’s the point?