Friday, 2 October 2015


There's been quite the horror resurgence in Australia of late. Jump started by Wolf Creek, the Oz Horror scene has also given us the likes of Charlie's Farm, Storm Warning, Wyrmwood and arguably the biggest genre flick of last year, The Babadook.
The recent Film4 FrightFest introduced another Down Under flick that has been making waves, Zak Hilditch's end of the world thriller, These Final Hours.
Would this be time well spent? Or would I be counting down the seconds until the end credits?
Read on...


Dir: Zak Hilditch
Starring: Nathan Phillips, Jessica De Gouw, Kathryn Beck, Angourie Rice, Daniel Henshall, Lynette Curran

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

The world is going to be destroyed. An unspecified but massive object has collided with the Earth, instantly obliterating the entire Northern hemisphere and sending a catastrophic destructive wave of fire out from the point of impact that will utterly annihilate anything and everything in its path. The people of Australia are told they have just eight short hours until it reaches them.
The film opens with irresponsible screw-up James (Phillips) in bed with Zoe (De Goew) pondering the unspeakable fate they face. Making an already unbearably poignant moment all-the-more heartbreaking, Zoe then reveals that she is expecting his baby.
James, never one to accept responsibility or man-up, promptly chooses to abandon her, instead opting to meet his long-term girlfriend Vicky (Beck) at the party to end all parties, thrown by Vicky's brother Freddy (Henshall). Here James intends to do drugs, drink, smoke and screw himself into oblivion.
However, on route James witnesses two deranged kidnappers dragging a young girl, Rose (Rice) into a house to suffer an unspeakable fate.
Unable to stand idly by, James intervenes and finds himself the custodian of the girl. He then agrees to help reunite Rose with her family in a world in which laws and society have crumbled in the face of the apocalypse. 
Can this flawed and broken man do the right thing for once? Can he save an innocent... and himself?

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Wow, These Final Hours blew me away. It works on every single level. The story, the filmmaking, the cast, the themes — it's utterly fantastic. 
Let's start with the story, taken from a fascinating premise that one can't help but hypothesise over — 'what would I do with just eight hours between me and certain doom?' — a story that boasts fantastic, well-rounded leads and plenty of great twists, turns and cul-de-sacs along the way.
It's compelling and provokes some genuine emotion (I felt quite choked up during some of the later scenes), not least because of some fantastic characterisation.
As flawed leads go, Phillip's James ticks all the boxes — selfish, weak, irresponsible, always making excuses — yet somehow we still root for him to eventually do the right thing, just once, and help the adorable Rose. This is thanks in no small part to the superb Phillips. His is a brave, honest performance, and makes for one of the most believable and tragic protagonists I've seen in some time. He is an excellent actor, a true star, and I sincerely hope to see more of him in the future.
Likewise Rice is a revelation — that rare thing, a child actor who is talented but doesn't come across as precocious or bratty. She is more than up to the considerable demands of the role, a role which is much more than just a plot device through which James is offered one last shot at redemption. Rice is a legitimate co-lead and she is just as good as her older partner. My sincerest congratulations on a wonderful job, young lady.
It is the interaction between the two of them that is the heart of the film. It encapsulates some of the strongest themes in the film — it's no small irony that after running from his unborn child James still finds himself in the role of guardian to a minor. There's no running from your parental responsibilities, a message echoed during an emotional visit to James' mother's (the excellent Curran) house. His mother has grown used to being let-down by her loser of a son, but when he comes calling there's still room for him. In fact, after witnessing the way in which James disappoints Vicky, Zoe and his Mum, we can't help but hope that Rose is the one lady he'll do right by.
The dialogue between him and his young charge sparkles, the delivery flawless. The story (written by director Hildritch) is surprisingly simple, but the richness of the characters ensures it remains totally captivating. Focusing on personal dilemmas and character arcs, the mysterious cataclysmic event that will end all life on earth is barely explained, but nor does it need to be — it's the MacGuffin used to spark the personal storylines that grip us.
Now all this talk of character-development and relationships may lead you to believe that this is a film that goes easy on the horror. This is not the case. We get some sudden and unexpected violence as James and Rose come across some individuals who have snapped in the face of inevitable doom and the bloody course they cut through the Australian landscape is horrifying. What's more there are some wonderful visual effects courtesy of Nathan Stone's talented team.
Yet despite the grimness of the story and the decidedly nasty events that occur on screen, the film is still gorgeously shot. Cinematographer Bonnie Elliot foregoes the usual dark and gloomy look of end of the world flicks, instead embracing the bright, blazing sun of the Australian setting, giving the film a dazzling, saturated look. It feels and looks very different to most genre efforts and ensures that Hildritch's eye for framing hits with optimum effect. Just one more hit in a film with very few misses.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Expect this section of the review to be very short.
One area in which it might suffer is the linear, uncomplicated nature of its storyline. As I said earlier, the plot is surprisingly simple and the biggest plot device, the world-ending catalyst is never truly explained. What's more, the very narrow focus on one or two major characters robs the film of scale. Some may be bothered by this, I however enjoyed it. Not giving us an explanation for the wave of destruction is a sound strategy, it stops all the DIY scientists from picking holes in the story, and ultimately, whatever it is that has caused the events of the film is largely irrelevant.
The narrow focus works because this is a film about one man learning to actually be a man before it's too late. It focuses on James' journey because THAT is what the film is really about.
However, there is a small setback here — the other characters do receive quite short shrift as they tend to be defined by their relationships with or actions towards James and Rose. The supporting cast of De Goew, Beck, Henshall and Curran are all excellent, but I do wish they'd all been given a bit more to do. Nevertheless they make the most of their screentime and there's only so long a film can be.
Finally, while there are some horrific scenes it's worth pointing out that this is more of a very dark apocalyptic thriller than a true horror movie. If you want chainsaws, a bodycount in double figures, scenes of prolonged torture and keyboard-slam jumpscares, look elsewhere. If, however, you want a more thought-provoking look at the far more scary prospect of inevitable destruction, These Final Hours is everything you could possibly ask for.

THE VERDICT: I'll cut straight to it — These Final Hours was the best film I saw at this year's FrightFest. A beautiful, heart-breaking but ultimately hopeful tour de force, it is one of the finest movies I've seen in a long, long time. From the cast, to the direction to the story, I cannot praise These Final Hours highly enough. It is an absolute must-see. 
Luckily, UK readers will be given the chance to see it very soon — hot on the heels of its FrightFest screening the movie will also be showing at Sheffield's Celluloid Screams Festival. If you're nearby and able to attend, you simply have to see it.
Furthermore, the film has already won plenty of support in the States and is now set to be adapted as a TV series by Luc Besson's EuropaCorp! Marvellous news!

Read my previous Film4 Frightfest special reviews for Suspension hereThe Nightmare hereWind Walkers hereStung hereNight of the Slasher hereInvaders hereCrow Hand!!! hereWe Are Still Here hereDemonic hereThe Lazarus Effect hereTurbo Kid here and Another Me here.

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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