Apocalyptic ticking-clock thrillers/buddy road movies are nothing new — Miracle Mile, The Road, and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World are stronger examples — but they’re rarely done with the kind of fearlessness, originality, or emotional honesty that writer-director Zak Hilditch delivers with These Final Hours. No cheap thrills or hollow romantic platitudes here; instead, we’re hit with a serious gut-check.
The title isn’t exactly a metaphor: The movie takes place during the last day of life on Earth, opening ten minutes after an asteroid has struck the planet and wiped out Europe and North America. In 12 hours, the shockwave will have worked its way across the globe and that will have been the proverbial That.
In Perth, James (Nathan Phillips) has decided to spend his final hours at an anything-goes party thrown by his best friend, Freddy (Daniel Henshall). His plans hit a snag when he stops to rescue a 12-year-old girl, Rose (Angourie Rice), from a couple of thugs. She’s been separated from her father and wants to find him so that she can be with him at the end.
Out of that simple premise spins an intriguing two-pronged character study. The focus is on James, a selfish tool whose rough exterior hides a warmer man grappling with his personal demons. This man at war with himself is reflected in the breakdown of the world around him, as people crumble in spectacular fashion: some indulge their darkest desires now that there’s nothing to keep them in check, others are unwilling or unable to face their impending doom and take the lives of themselves and/or their loved ones before the end comes. Freddy’s party proves to be particularly hedonistic, populated by people drinking, dancing, screwing, and playing Russian roulette in a literal orgy of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and violence.
It’s the type of movie that would have been DOA if delivered by less assured hands, but Hilditch stays true to his story and characters the whole time In Phillips and Rice, Hilditch has found a unique pair of leads to embody his mismatched leads. Phillips (Wolf Creek) is able to project the guarded humanity of the ripped douchebag that is James, and Rice is vulnerable but resourceful without swerving into plucky moppet territory.
Though hampered by it at times, Hilditch nevertheless makes the low-budget aesthetic work in his favor, saturating his exteriors in an eerie orange overtone that constantly reminds the reviewer about the holocaust lurking on the horizon and saving much of the modest effects budget for the final scene. Rarely has the end of the world been so beautiful.