Puzzle pieces lie strewn across a dusty table in the suburbs of Perth. They form an incomplete geography: crude continents assembled from matching pieces surrounded by isolate islands, shards without a partner. The camera lingers on this puzzle; we know it will never be completed. There are mere hours til the immolating shockwave of an asteroid collision will consume this house, and every other trace of human life. These are the final hours, scattered amongst the inchoate fragments of our lives, pieces that will never form a coherent whole.
What resonates about These Final Hours is the totality of its pre-apocalyptic conceit. This is no piecemeal armageddon, with survivors left to pick up the crumbling remains of a civilisation; this is oblivion. There is an intimidating emotional intensity to the prospect of such absolute devastation: we understand that we may never complete the jigsaw puzzle that is our lives – whether we have six hours left or six decades – but we hope to leave something to our friends, our family. What is life when there’s no life beyond it?
This is the question posed by Australian director Zac Hilditch in his new film. He presents a range of responses to the prospect of certain annihilation. There’s anarchy, as individuals indulge forbidden impulses, whether that’s simply getting munted at a no-holds-barred house party or darker tendencies like murder or rape. There’s resignation: suicide is a common motif without the film, as desperate families choose to embrace the inevitability of death on their own terms. There’s selfishness, as again and again characters respond to others’ revelations by complaining that they didn’t want to know.
There’s hope for humanity here as well, as our protagonist James (Nathan Phillips) finds his quest to “get fucked up” derailed when he rescues a young girl named Rose (Angourie Rice) from her captors. The film adopts the skeletal framework of a thriller – posing machete-wielding and pill-popping threats – as James and Rose search for some sort of meaningful purpose in their final hours, but is ultimately more interested in presenting a Christianity-tinged argument that there is life beyond life (these themes are largely subtextual, but they’re hard to ignore once noticed, from the crucifixes that Rose and James wear – as a necklace and tattoo, respectively – to dialogue choices towards the back half, but an extensive analysis would stray into spoilers, so I’ll leave it there).
The magnitude of These Final Hours’ concept and its aforementioned emotional intensity maintain audience interest throughout, but viewed objectively it’s an imperfect film. Formally Hilditch alternates between tight shaky cam over his character’s shoulders and static shots contemplating deserted Perth streets, all stained by the heat of an oppressive yellow sun. This is generally effective, but compromised by lacklustre editing: an early chase scene clumsily tries – and fails – to use erratic editing and hardcore music to creat excitement, but the big disappointment is the central party scene.
There’s everything you’d expect at the party – drugs, alcohol, countless bare breasts – but it’s shot with a music video-esque staccato that’s ill-suited to the scene, suggesting a subjective stimulant-fuelled delirium while James is at his most reflective. I wouldn’t be surprised if the editing is simply to disguise poor coverage, but the scene desperately called out for a shot to be held for longer than a couple seconds to convey the bacchanalian scale of things. Still, credit where credit is due – the final ten minutes of the film are powerfully composed, and largely forgives these bouts of ungainly editing.
Phillips is commendable in the lead role; physically he’s perfect for the role, his sharp muscularity suiting his brusque masculinity, gradually softened by his experience with Rose. He manages to communicate a lot with little dialogue; given his notable film roles to date are Wolf Creek and Snakes on a Plane, I was pleasantly surprised. Pre-teenager Rice does solid work, but isn’t so much given a character to play as a symbol (for someone abducted by rapists, she’s remarkable blasé about the experience). Sarah Snook is impressively creepy in a small role, while Kathryn Beck unleashes some cringeworthy overacting as James’ fanatical girlfriend.
For most audience members, though, I doubt the questions that linger after These Final Hours will revolve around editing or a misjudged performance. This is the kind of film that invites you to consider the puzzle pieces that make up your life and reflect upon how they should fit together. I’m not sure if there are any answers here, but the questions These Final Hours asks are worth contemplating.