A good hero’s journey should begin with a memorable inciting event. Perhaps it’s coming into the possession of droids valuable to the Empire, perhaps it’s brought to you by the kindly local grey wizard bearing an enticing magical ring or perhaps it’s an onslaught of letter-bearing owls. But for Nathan Phillips’ James, the protagonist of These Final Hours, the goal that sets him on the journey we endure for the next 87 all begins with the simple desire to get “fucked up”. And thus begins the cultural cringe felt around the world.
These Final Hours is the laziest clichés of the dumb, articulate binge-drinking Aussie bloke taken to its most offensive extreme. James’ quest is supposedly one of redemption, his hedonistic selfish ways softened by the wayward child he picks up in the face of the apocalypse. But it’s so hard to be invested in his quest when he is fundamentally vapid right from the beginning. He has a quick root with the more ‘real’ of his two girlfriends (we know this because she’s brunette and doesn’t speak in a ludicrously high voice while begging for sex) and then runs off to a huge party at the end of the world to bang his other girlfriend, played as a shrill harpy by Kathryn Beck. Yes this is an apocalypse film that follows one man’s journey to a party. These are the stakes.
The hedonistic party to literally end all parties is really where the film’s spectacular lack of imagination begins to show. It’s an orgy of tits, pills, cocaine and booze but it pretty much just looks like some rushes from a Girls Gone Wild shoot. There’s nothing that makes it feels like surreal escapism, it’s just eye candy for the blokes in the audience. The designated act two villain is a mother at the party suffering from PTSD after her daughter was lost during the chaos. This is treated with the sensitivity of having her repeatedly pushed around and told to “fuck off,” much to the audience’s amusement. The one-two punch of Beck’s reductively horny caricature and the walking punchline of a distressed mother permanently taint the rest of the film with a lingering taste of pretty blatant misogyny.
The tag line for the film is “What would you do?” and the film is pretty much one moral dilemma after another. As James makes his way through the suburbs to get to the party, he is faced with one depraved non-sequitur after another that forces him to make a difficult decision or simply wallow in the collapse of civilization. There are two fundamental problems with this approach. For one thing, James lacks the articulation or even the expressions to really communicate any moral torment. The other issue is that there’s just nothing particularly intelligent or constructive about presenting terrible things to an audience and asking them simplistic moral dilemmas. It presents a superficial sense of contemplation, but in the end These Final Hours feels like the filmic equivalent of a bunch of high school boys asking each other hypothetical questions as they wait for the bus – that’s the level of philosophy it’s engaging with.
The emotional weight of the film comes from the budding relationship between James and Angourie Rice’s Rose who he rescues from a group of pedophiles in one of the film’s most grossly exploitative moments of asking “deep questions, man”. In an effort to reunite her with her family, the two bond, he learns responsibility and compassion while redeeming his hedonistic ways – at least, that’s the clichéd arc that is being attempted – only the film can’t pull it off. When it comes down to it, all the script does is have Rose say something innocent yet slightly sassy while James gives a laugh-inducing bit of inappropriate wisdom. On the surface, it feels like this is where the film is building their connection but little emotional development actually occurs. James merely changes his mind about helping her while we stay in this one-joke bit of ‘quirky’ pairing. Once again the film comes up against the emotional closed book that is James, an empty shell of blank expressions and stunted half-formed sentences.
It’s a sad fate for a film that should have had a lot going for it. While I can praise little of Hilditch’s script he does have moments of visual flair. As The Rover has already proven, Australia has a lot to offer the apocalypse genre beyond the empty stretches of Mad Max’s deserts, and Hilditch occasionally summons images of eerie horror to his stunted landscape. Yet this is nowhere near enough to save a film that is fundamentally undercooked and quite frankly dumb. Village Roadshow have sunk a lot into the distribution of this film, and it is rare to see an Australian movie playing in the major cinema chains but I just wish it wasn’t this one. Instead of using the heightened stakes of a genre film to enliven Australia’s tendency towards overly quaint dramas, These Final Hours brings our industry’s worst habits to what at the very least should be a fun film.
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