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.
Video and Audio:
Sweltering, scorched, yellow-tinged aesthetics craft the harsh mood for These Final Hours, guided by cinematographer Bonnie Elliott's careful eye for composition and intelligently-used wavering of the camera. There's nothing to complain about with Well Go USA's excellent digital transfer, aside from a few limitations due to the digital photography: the sweaty, stubbly close-ups exhibit cracking details and nimble response to lighting, with the stylistic contrast choices rendering deep and delicate black levels that rarely crush out details. Underneath the tawny apocalyptic palette are sneaky touches of color -- flowers, children's outdoor play sets, Christmas decorations, pool water, liquor bottles -- that smartly balance against it, along with subtle shifts in skin warmth. The camera moves persistently in the film, even during intimate two-person conversations for a dose of realism, to which the disc's 24p rendering handles without a hitch. It's a striking film in terms of visuals, at this Blu-ray makes the most of them.
Soul-stirring music, melancholy conversations, and the roar of impending extinction in the distance are the driving forces behind this 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, but it also rises to the occasion whenever there's intensity in the track. Dialogue stays discernible and clear throughout, staying appropriately centered on the stage as the surrounding atmosphere fills out the side channels, never encroaching on audibility. The pounding of music -- especially during the party sequence -- tests the thump of the bass channel without any overbearing rumble, while the more uncontrollable sounds of the apocalyptic fire and brimstone deliver appropriate rumble. When there are gunshots and shattered glass, they're potent and fittingly responsive to their channels, though the back-end of the surround stage is reserved mostly for ambience and the potent score. Everything fits with the mood of the film, and with shrewd sonic clarity. A 2-channel Stereo option is also available, along with English subs.
Only a Trailer (1:41, 16x9 HD).
Considering some of the best and worst that the apocalyptic drama has to offer -- the harrowing tension of The Road, the off-and-on charms and introspection of Seeking a Friend For the End of the World, the abysmal Parts Per Billion -- These Final Hours lands somewhere in the middle of the genre's roster. It's well-made, especially for its budget, and its urgent expressiveness about the moral conflict, redemption and fraught emotions that'd stir during the final hours of existence take precedence. Alas, it also has a cynical and philosophically shallow viewpoint on those things in service of the plot, where the resulting physical and emotional twists are a reflection of that due to the insistence of a defeatist attitude, dominated by suicide and thoughtlessness. There's a middle ground between the two that These Final Hours can't reach, and it's largely because of its focus on the last-minute salvation of an inadequately fleshed-out partier and his life-altering rapport with a young girl, limiting its scope all the way until a gloomy ending. Rent It.