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These Final Hours

Year: 2013
Production Co: 8th in Line
Director: Zak Hilditch
Writer: Zak Hilditch
Cast: Nathan Phillips, Angourie Rice, David Field, Daniel Henshall, Jessica de Gouw, Sarah Snook, Kathryn Beck

This film has a magic ingredient I still can't identify, but whatever it is makes it one of the best Australian movies I've seen in a long time.

It's not the acting or script – there are times when the demands of the story stretch them a bit further than they can handle. The premise is excellent, but plenty of other movies about the end of the world prove that's not enough alone.

But something about it sticks with you for a long time. Maybe it's the same sense of leaden doom as On The Beach and other classics of the genre. Maybe that's all it takes, although I still don't think other films with such a mood are nearly as effective.

Maybe your heart just goes out to the characters. Production notes and director statements you read about movies like this usually crap on about finding redemption, but it's not only quite the case here, it's handled evocatively instead of making you want to roll your eyes. It actually brings the old adage to mind about how you're just one person in the world, but to one person you might be the whole world.

James (Nathan Phillips, who deserves to be a much bigger star than he is) finds himself in such a position when he crosses paths with Rose (Angourie Rice). With every fibre in his being screaming to continue where he was going, he decides to save the little girl from a terrible fate even though it's small potatoes compared to everything going on around them.

Instead of a quick diversion, Rose becomes the mission that will take the rest of James' life to complete – if he's lucky.

The reason is because a meteor has hit the northern hemisphere and the shock wave and fire is slowly circling the Earth, wiping one country after another off the map. Among the last places to fall will be Perth, and James has been making his way through the suburbs trying to reach a party his friends and girlfriend are throwing to end it all.

Rose just wants to get back to the shopping centre carpark where she left her Dad, so James decides to take her there after saving her from a pair of perverted thugs he sees carrying her screaming into a house.

Her dad is nowhere to be seen, and James doesn't have the conscience to leave her, so he takes Rose to the party, one he intended to use to block out the pain when it arrives.

But something has changed in him because of the young girls' trust, and he decides to take her to the house in the hills where she thinks her Dad and family might be holed up, waiting for her.

His time with Rose convinces James to return to the woman we see him with in the beginning of the movie, one he's been too scared to remain with in her house beside the beach but whom he truly loves, unlike the shrewish girlfriend at the party.

That all makes it sound much cheesier than it is. Screenwriter/director Zak Hilditch doesn't go for profundities, last-minute rescues or other 'movie' moments. He just shows suburban Australians doing what they do and speaking how they speak – in fact it's the cause of some of the dodgier moments the performers deliver.

But it somehow still manages to portray a sense of the Earth dying with a bang rather than a whimper. David Field is a ham radio operator giving regular updates about what parts of the world have been scoured clean by fire and how long it is until death reaches Perth. His regular segues pile on a sense of resignation and fear rather than tension – that comes from the narrative.

However it manages it, These Final Hours grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go for an instant.

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