Now and in the Hour of Our Death, by Williamson Balliet
A meteor has already collided with Earth minutes before These Final Hours begins. Those in Western Australia are lucky enough (or not depending on general outlook) to have another half a day before the ensuing firestorm tears through the country and wipes out the whole of humanity. We follow James, a drug and booze chugging ne’er-do-well, through this clamorous build-up to conflagration.
Distraught and wishing to spend his final time on Earth unfeeling, James careens his muscle car past the hopeful, the hopeless, and the violent, consuming a heroic amount of tequila, an act made even more impressive by the complete lack of effect it has on the protagonist. This early scene also begins an enjoyable framing device, albeit not a wholly original one, by way of an isolated radio DJ who thoughtfully narrates. Were the announcer not so nostalgic and eloquent this would have likely felt cheap in its presentation of a ticking clock, an artificial articulation of the present stakes and acknowledgement of just exactly where we are in the scant narrative. But this disembodied voice provides a sort of grace lacking in the characters, comprised mostly of hedonists, psychopaths, the wayward leads, and a child, that his words do contain a permanence otherwise lacking in the dialogue.
James, in what becomes a bit of running theme, is accosted by a violent maniac and forced to abandon his car and flee on foot, leading to the film’s central conflict. Rescuing the young Zoe (Jessica De Gouw) from would-be attackers (in what is perhaps the film’s best scene largely for its liberal application of hammer-based violence), James attempts to traverse the not un-Purge like terrain of soon to be annihilated Perth. The two fall into their roles of surrogate father and hapless and trusting daughter and though this oft-repeated trope is fully alive and well in These Final Hours, the constant threat of violence and murder, which the film smartly initiated very early by way of a machete-wielding maniac, is enough to engage viewers with their burgeoning relationship.
The film’s narrative suffers most from a lack of balance. The juxtaposition of emotional character building and higher-concept apocalyptic pieces leads to diminished returns. There also seems to be an issue of believability, not of course in the general premise, but rather in the 180 degree turn of James, from alcoholic, drug-addled, blight on society to thoughtful, paternally-minded protector. We are presented with a man whose backstory implies the loosest of moral codes and rampant narcissism, but seems more natural playing dad to Zoe than he does with his own girlfriend or best friend.
And yet despite its tropey premise, its all-to-quick pivots, and it general lack of stylization, These Final Hours allows enough insight into a well-crafted and horrific world of imminent demise that it is difficult to dwell on its faults, especially in the wake of its final imagery. And while there is a scattershot approach to the protagonist’s search for redemption, there still remain intense moments where humanity, and not the exaggerated Lord of the Flies type, is on full display. Moments like a meeting with his mother where forgiveness is in the air but not spoken, those words seemingly impossible to reach after what must have been a lifetime of argument, or a father’s pleads for forgiveness when he knows he will be committing the ultimate evil both serve as bedrock in a story that will occasionally have a viewer exhausted by its very nature.