These Final Hours

Zak Hilditch

BY Robert BellPublished Oct 17, 2014

Though all films are, in their own way, a reflection of their surrounding culture, there's something specifically hyperbolic about those that depict the end of the world. The Americans have historically been cinematically confident that they can avoid Armageddon through the sheer doggedness and heroism of the everyman, whereas Western Europe has traditionally been more resigned to the inevitable, taking impending mortality as an opportunity to explore existential angst.

Canada and Australia have demonstrated similar ideological sensibilities when tackling populist cinematic paradigms. In approaching the superhero format with Defendor and Griff the Invisible, respectively, they both challenged the psychology behind what makes someone retreat into the delusion of unique greatness to begin with, positing meek, diffident, severely damaged men trying to find their place in a world that doesn't give a shit about them.

In many ways, These Final Hours is the Australian equivalent of Don McKellar's Last Night. Both films have the same utilitarian, defeatist sensibility, jumping into an end of the world scenario without any suggestion that it can be avoided. In Hours, James (Nathan Phillips) plans to fuck and party his way into oblivion, moving on from a casual hook up to embark on a road trip through an unstable and anarchic backdrop towards a hedonistic event where his girlfriend awaits.

Seeing as the road trip is virtually always a metaphor for life in film — as if positing a character coping with the knowledge of impending death wasn't enough — the story becomes more about the journey than the destination. While making his way through dead bodies, evading the occasional crazed man with a machete, James happens upon Rose (Angourie Rice), a young girl locked in a washroom by men that presumably want to use her for less than admirable purposes.

Director Zak Hilditch fares well in establishing a kinetic, highly propulsive tone and trajectory. These Final Hours moves along at a nice pace, inserting unexpected violence in logical places. As such, the fact that it's really rather redundant and predictable in its tired narrative tropes (Can anyone guess if James learns a valuable life lesson from Rose after he saves her?) doesn't detract from the basic entertainment value. Things do lose a bit of steam once James' nascent role as protector and caretaker — giving his life some purpose, in case anyone had missed the already implicit heteronormative subtext — mostly devolving into some moralistic preaching about the frivolity of leaving this mortal coil full of drugs and slurping on a stranger's genitalia.

Still, until then, and even during the final arc when emotions are in overdrive, this unassuming Australian deconstruction is highly effective at inducing broad, reactionary emotions. The performances are on point, and even the bookmarked, highly stylized editing techniques suit quite well the material and its implicit presentation of grasping for meaning while everything rushes by in a haze. But what's more interesting than the perfunctory nature of the basic narrative structure and its sensationalistic tendencies is what it says about Australia's cultural ethos.

Much like Last Night, These Final Hours suggests that we're all just meandering through life without really addressing annihilation anxiety. The main distinction is that TFH is a more aggressive, candid look at the human condition, dropping a bit of the idealism and metaphysical musings of its Canadian counterpart.

(Mongrel Media)

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