Bleak 'These Final Hours' Straggles To Apocalyptic Salvation

Directed by: Zak Hilditch; Runtime: 87 minutes
Grade: C+

End-of-the-world movies can be grim enough without a story insisting on making every turn around the bend into a depressing, futile affair. It's one thing for post-apocalyptic movies to venture into that area, since there's always a hint of optimism that survival will be an option, but the approach of a sure-fire extinction event nixes that possibility as people scurry to do what they can with the remainder of their lives. Zak Hilditch's These Final Hours carries noble intentions in attempting to tell a story of an inebriated, self-focused man redeeming himself by aiding a young girl searching for her family before the end of days, and should be commended for not shying away from the dark, hedonistic side of the scenario. Regrettably, the audacious bleakness of the film ventures too close to a message of nihilism while straining credibility in how it stretches out the time left on the doomsday clock, accommodating for more doom and gloom instead of capably underscoring its messages about the preciousness of time.

A tightly-edited sequence reminiscent of 28 Days Later gets us up to speed on the anarchistic state in These Final Hours, beginning a few minutes after a meteor strikes Earth that creates a wave of fire and destruction which ultimately won't leave anything alive across the globe. With the meteor landing in the North Atlantic, the exterminating blaze won't arrive in Western Australia for another twelve hours, leaving the citizens of Perth to eke out as much living as they can before everything ends. After abandoning his kind, passionate mistress to go spend the remaining time with his actual girlfriend and attend a massive party, James -- a boozed-up, drugged-up guy with a destructive streak in his personal life -- hesitantly saves a young girl, Rose (Angourie Rice), from the clutches of two brutish would-be rapists exploiting the situation. With the hours remaining, he scrambles to help the girl find her father elsewhere in Perth before time runs out, unsure of what they'll find at any given moment in the hopeless, lawless city preparing for the end.

Mortality, hedonistic indulgence, and surrendering to the inevitable are all things that inherently follow the apocalyptic subgenre around, but they're used to some rather unsympathetic and downcast ends in These Final Hours. Director Hilditch's bravery to get his hands dirty with the motifs deserves some praise, yet it's frustrating to see the balance skewed to such an insistently and superficially tragic degree, where human decency and perseverance outside of James and Rose are in very short supply. Death and disappointment loom around every corner, both homicidal and suicidal, to which the film comes dangerously close to instilling the idea that hope and sacrifice might not be worth the effort due to the numerous dark possibilities that await in their search. What's the point of eating up time to seek out loved ones if "checking out ahead of time" is such a rampantly adopted alternative? One could argue that it might be part of that point, that Hilditch has crafted a cautionary tale about those tendencies, but it's difficult to embrace when the unpleasant drama does little to discourage the psychology of that idea.

As a radio host grimly updates on the global destruction and counts down the hours until the firestorm hits the city, a lot transpires in These Final Hours over the course of half a day, so much that it diminishes the drama's credibility. While it's tough to believe that only X number of hours pass between the events spread across the film's efficient 85-minute runtime, that's a secondary concern to James' willingness to use up all the time he's got left in a number of wild-goose chases, let alone the initial decision to leave his beloved, even-tempered mistress in the first place. Director Hilditch puts together unsettling images of doomsday lunatics and brazen hedonists throughout the road trips that certainly establishes a mood, yet they're constantly undermined by James' waffling grasp on the situation, notably during an overblown party sequence and the appearance of Sarah Snook's kooky, tripping maternal character. Since little gets revealed about James beyond his boozing, cheating, and family troubles, that could merely be part of his temperament, but there isn't enough character depth to work with either way.

These Final Hours isn't too concerned with how much of an understanding we've got of James as an individual, though, instead focused on the broad strokes of his redemption itself, reflecting on surrogate guardianship and the nature of humanity when there's no accounting for one's actions the next day. While Nathan Phillips delivers an admirably gruff, conflicted attitude as James that works as a fine dramatic bedrock, the heart and soul of the film rests in Angourie Rice's perceptive performance as Rose and how director Hilditch discovers in her authentic, wise youthful responses to something as enormous as the end of days. Despite any misgivings towards the story's willfully morose intentions, there's a haunting meaningfulness in Rose's complicated search to find her father just so they can be together when it's all over, arriving at a solemn but cathartic end to their journey. It's a shame, then, to see the rest of James' story of moral recovery go up in flames on a problematic and dispiriting note, where the difficulty in sympathizing with his regret becomes its most distinguishing trait among other pre-apocalyptic fables.

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