“Nothing spreads like fear”, the tagline for Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion reads, an intellectual disaster movie that zeroes in on the dangers of disease in a globalized world, using the common germaphobia many in the modern world feel to create terror, and showing the primal destruction of order.
In Zak Hilditch’s These Final Hours, there’s another, uncontrollable, destructible plague sweeping the world, where all life now has a ‘use by’ date on it, an exact moment where it will end. Only 12 hours to go. The challenge is making the most of it. How one’s life is going to end, what their final words and actions will be are able to be controlled, creating a frenzy of indecision as people scramble to leave their ‘mark’ on the world.
But the world will be long gone before the inevitable sweeps across the barren plains of Perth, you see. Like in Soderbergh’s film, Hilditch perpetuates the idea that the most powerful destruction will not come from the predictable, fiery storm or deadly disease, but from the unpredictable insanity of humans. As relationships and rules become meaningless, human behaviour and how it devolves into selfish ruthlessness becomes more powerful than any storm. In an event such as this, the all-consuming madness spreads faster than any biological or weather event.
As a result of this, Hilditch’s film becomes an interesting study on beliefs, and the age-old idea of ‘fight or flight’. When everything else is taken away, the masks of materialism, the comfort of ‘having time’ (even if no one knows how much time exactly) and the need for false politeness are taken away, people are stripped down to their cores, their true, ugly, desperate selves that lurk beneath remaining.
And in the spirit of humans being definitely bonkers and deathly unpredictable, becoming people that one doesn’t recognize,These Final Hours is a truly mad film. There are no explosions, lengthy fight scenes, chases, the usual crowd pleasing spectacles or last minute “the day is saved”’s of those seemingly ever-increasing disaster movies (a sign of the times?). The tone is quickly set, frenetic and burning and wildly unpredictable, mixing existentialism with what on the surface looks like a disaster movie. From the first glimpses of that all-too-familiar sun that burns hot and dark, it’s clear that there is going to be no sudden reprieve, that there is a clear end in sight, and it is bleak as hell. The fate that is awaiting the world in these final hours looks like hell. It’s all raging fire and building, stifling smoke, gradually getting thicker and colouring the air dirty, magnifying the heat. But despite the inevitable, fiery fate that awaits the characters, the film is largely devoid of effects, instead creating terror by the ways that the characters cope.
As a result of this, These Final Hours’ power comes from making a film about what’s happening in the foreground, not the background. It’s not a perfect film any means, but it unlocks something so visceral that it’s near impossible to not get swept up in the tidal wave of burning emotion that flows through its core. Is it the feeling that if the world was ending in a matter of hours, some would cling to faith, regardless of its prior presence in their life; others would depart as soon as possible or be in total denial; and some people would throw a massive Spring Breakers-like blowout? Is it that finally Australia is being affected in a disaster movie, pulling us out of our false, action-blockbuster sense of security? Is it the setting of Perth, which is the least probable but at the same time incredibly appropriate, as it allows Hilditch to focus on the isolation Australia has from the rest of the world, creating a not very ‘global’ film? Regardless, These Final Hours is fight or flight, asking large questions of faith (which alone warrant further investigation) and being able to accept the past and exhibiting the raw madness that would ensue in an event such as this. Combined with the tight runtime and pacing, Hilditch creates a film that becomes increasingly, chokingly desperate as the final moment draws closer and closer, whittling his world away until no habitable part remains.