Australia—home of Mad Max and, long before, the end-of-days nuclear fallout drama On The Beach—is a natural site for imagining the apocalypse. All that barely inhabitable terrain is potentially suggestive of a disaster that’s already happened, so These Final Hours scores no points for originality of setting. With 12 hours to go before a meteor brings it all to an end, James (Nathan Phillips) is hellbent on bowing out in a hedonistic haze of drugs, sex, and booze. “I don’t want to feel a thing,” he tells Zoe (Jessica De Guow)—not his girlfriend, but his on-the-side mistress. “I just want to get fucked up.” The drive to the ultimate final party is interrupted when James spots adolescent Rose (Angourie Rice) being abducted by men intending to rape her. His conscience reluctantly prodded, he rescues her and attempts to restore her to family so he can get to the final debauch. Predictably, this isn’t easy, but their journey will make callow James a better person in his last moments.
The question These Final Hours never answers is why this might matter. One plausible answer might be a belief in God and/or the afterlife—the world might end, but our souls are still somehow accountable. Hours gestures in this direction early and often when James, in his first heroic moments, gets a nail in his arm for an easy symbolic stigmata. The film is regularly punctuated by the ponderous musings of a DJ, who expounds on how one might end up turning to God in such moments. Rose herself is religious, asking, “Did you ever think that you might go to hell instead of heaven?”
But the film never really follows through on this train of thought or commits to a believer’s perspective; it’s much more in the watery vein of being “very spiritual,” relying heavily on Cornel Wilczek’s all-too-familiar orchestral swells and unearned sentiments like Zoe’s sad-eyed prod to her errant swain, “Life is stronger than death.” The end of the world is non-negotiable here, so that would seem to be an empirically wrong statement, even if it’s a nice thought. As it happens, James makes it to the big party for a bit, but leaves after the cocaine-grazed, orgiastic revelers freak Rose out. Lesson learned? It’s not that there are personal issues of self-definition and life goals to consider when deciding whether or not to abandon oneself to total excess, but that one shouldn’t party because it might upset small children, a fairly bathetic non-argument.
Incoherent and pointless as it is, These Final Hours moves with commendable swiftness. DP Bonnie Elliott has a good eye for sharp widescreen compositions, and Hilditch exhibits a crisp facility with endtime atrocities and despair, from hanging bodies on lampposts to smashed cars. Brisk though it is, These Final Hours imagines a very sentimental planetary extinction, in which one man does the right things, as narrowly defined, at the last possible second: reconciling with his mother, looking after small children, rejecting promiscuity by ditching his coke-addled girlfriend for his doe-eyed mistress (a weird moment of moral flexibility amid the moralizing), just saying no to drugs and alcohol. Is this all the end of days is good for?