'These Final Hours': Cannes Review
Australian director Zak Hilditch looks at the spectrum of human behavior in the face of impending doom in his last-day-on-earth road movie.
CANNES – The flat, sun-blasted suburbia of Perth on Australia's southwestern coast is an atmospheric setting to wait out the cataclysmic event that will end the world in These Final Hours. But despite its strong sense of place and a solid central performance from Nathan Phillips, Zak Hilditch's film is too blighted by the deja vu factor to stand out from the apocalyptic pack. Striking visuals tag the director as a talent to watch, but the thin story, feeble dialogue and underdeveloped characters suggest he needs to work with a more experienced screenwriter.
Hilditch's script has the substance of an extended music video about the triumph of love over hedonistic oblivion in the face of catastrophe -- minimally fleshed out as a two-character portrait. The echo in the closing shots of the doomsday image that concludes Jeff Nichols' chilling Take Shelter is just one reminder of the many recent films in which the destruction of the planet has been given more complex and original treatment.
These Final Hours opens with a frantic series of "I love you" messages as a scramble of voices say their hurried goodbyes and we watch an asteroid blazing its way toward a distant point on the globe. A voice on a radio transmission (David Field) reveals that the direct impact was somewhere in the North Atlantic, with large parts of the world already wiped out and an estimated 12 hours remaining before the blast force hits Perth. That radio voice is heard at intervals throughout, providing a slow countdown to the inevitable. Meanwhile, the streets are littered with the results of murder, looting, violence, suicide and insanity. As visions of the end of the world go, this is a toxic one, in which the basest human instincts prevail.
Following some hot farewell sex, James (Phillips) learns that his girl on the side, Zoe (Jessica de Gouw), is pregnant. Given that none of them will be around tomorrow, he's unsure how to react. Zoe wants him to stay with her at her beach house and take in the grim view together, but James insists on heading off to a friend's epic party. While this choice between experiencing the world's end with a loved one or numbing the pain with drugs and alcohol is a potentially interesting theme, Hilditch doesn’t linger over it long enough to establish real conflict.
En route to the party, James reluctantly intervenes when he witnesses a preteen girl being abducted by a pair of creeps. Rose (Angourie Rice) has been separated from her father and just wants to get back to their agreed rendezvous point. James attempts to offload her at his sister's place, only to find that her entire family has checked out early.
Phillips (Wolf Creek) looks good in his sweaty tank top and tats, and does well within the limited scope of the role, which traces a predictable arc from self-centeredness to responsibility as his priorities shift. But the performances are otherwise uneven, with abrasive work from Kathryn Beck as James' shrill official girlfriend and Daniel Henshall (The Snowtown Murders) as her gonzo brother, who is hosting the hello-oblivion rave.
That party taps every cliche of end-of-civilization bacchanalia -- wild naked dancing, writhing orgies, Russian roulette and rampant drug and alcohol consumption. As disorienting as the interlude is for alienated James and even more so for Rose, it's a loud, annoying bore for the audience.
The film is more rewarding in quieter moments, such as a touching visit to James' salty, semi-estranged mother (Lynette Curran), waiting out the end with a few chardonnays and a jigsaw puzzle. Or the arrival at the home of Rose's aunt, secluded in an idyllic bushland spot marked by tragedy. Mature for her years and fully aware of what's happening, Rose gets under James' skin, prompting him to reorder his final priorities.
Shooting for the most part in sweltering sunlight and scorching yellow tones, Bonnie Elliott goes for antsy hand-held agitation in the chaotic stretches but settles into a more observational mode in moments of calm. Hilditch effectively structures the drama as a road movie that begins and ends at the same point before its preordained outcome. But it needed sharper dialogue and characters with more depth to generate an emotional charge in keeping with the film's subject.
Production company: 8th in Line Productions
Cast: Nathan Phillips, Angourie Rice, Jessica de Gouw, Kathryn Beck, Daniel Henshall, Sarah Snook, Lynette Curran, David Field
Director-screenwriter: Zak Hilditch
Producer: Liz Kearney
Executive producer: Robert Connolly
Director of photography: Bonnie Elliott
Production designer: Nigel Davenport
Costume designer: Marcia Ball
Editors: Nick Meyers, Meredith Watson Jeffrey
Music: Cornel Wilczek, Alex Akers
Visual effects: Double Barrel
Sales: Celluloid Nightmares
No rating, 86 minutes.