These Final Hours review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
“We will all go together when it comes.” -Tom Lehrer
When the apocalypse happens, humanity will go out in a spree of panic as suggested by These Final Hours. In this apocalypse-countdown movie set in Australia, there is no courageous fight to save the planet. The meteor has already hit. Armageddon is only a few hours away and nothing can prevent the impending doom. With everyone facing death, society crumbles and morality shatters. It’s a time for either spiritual repentance or hardcore partying. For the young man James (Nathan Phillips), it’s a little of both as the good will inevitably outweigh the evil.
At first, James succumbs to hedonism. His lover Zoe being pregnant does little to make him want to stay with the one he loves when the end comes. Desiring a better way to go out, James sets off for the mother of all parties - an insane gathering of naked bodies, drugs, booze and Russian roulette. On his way to the party, however, he runs afoul of some unsavory doomsday fiends. The little girl Rose (Angourie Rice) pleads for help as two men who have abducted her prepare for sexual desires. Faced with a moral dilemma, James cracks some skulls and saves the little girl seeking her dad. As the two search for their friends and family as the last hours draw near, they inevitably form a friendship on the road to nowhere.
For being a fairly low budget production with a first time writer/director (Zak Hilditch), this little film manages to capture the apocalypse vibe quite well within the city of Perth. There are several tragic scenes that James and Rose happen upon of individuals who have killed themselves to avoid suffering in the end. The most disturbing part of the movie - maybe every apocalypse movie - finds a family of four congregating in a desolate library. When James finds them, the father desperately pleads for James to shoot him and his family in the back of the head. It’s a very heartbreaking moment once James refuses and leaves the family to read a book before dad ends it all. We never see the act or hear the gunshots as James and Rose leave before the gruesome conclusion. It’s so very uncomfortable and played up perfectly for the sadness implied.
As a story about a man trying to find his humanity while a cute kid finds her dad, it could easily go shmaltzy with easy plays at drama. But this movie doesn’t hold back on any of the brutality or disturbing nature of impending doom. James’ run-in with local whackos spawned from the end of days are truly frightening people who either have screws too loose or too tight. A pedophile attempts to reason with James before being beaten that there’s plenty of the underage girl to go around. A machete-wielding maniac babbles in his ear as he forces James to drive the car. The party that James eventually arrives at has an unease of mass hedonism where guns and drugs are thrown around wildly as people lose their minds. Some of the punks are fooling themselves into believing there may be a way to survive if they form a bunker - even though that wouldn’t do much to save you from a scorched Earth.
The performances by all involved are top notch. Nathan Phillips very much sells the role as a conflicted soul unsure about how to feel that his unborn son will never see the world. Angourie Rice perfectly plays the little Rose that has an equal balance of innocence and smarts. She’s scared enough to be frightened of pill-popping maniacs, but smart enough to know where she belongs as the end draws near. There are several moments where James tries to usher her away from a scene with “go read a book” or “go for a swim.” Rose is smart enough to know when something is up so chances are she’s only stepping aside for James’ sake. After all, Rose knows who she wants to be with during the apocalypse and James still needs to find that out.
These Final Hours manages to pump a much-needed dose of emotion and unease for the apocalypse genre. The crumbling world is perfectly built up with less special effects and all character. Watching destrado and fear overtake humanity is far more engaging to witness than how many buildings explode or tumble. The usual formula of an apocalyptic road trip movie is injected with real personality thanks to a stellar combination of the Perth area and the actors giving 100%. That way when the grand finale of an unstoppable wave of fire finally engulfs Australia, the words “it’s beautiful” actually carry more weight than they usually do.