These Final Hours
“I’m still thinking about that film, you know,” my mum opened our dinner conversation last week. “I can’t seem to shake it.” The previous night, we had watched Zak Hilditch’s feature film debut, These Final Hours. Screening at this year’s MIFF – not MILF as I accidentally called it to open my interview with Hilditch – These Final Hours is an engrossing apocalyptic drama set in Perth that explores human behaviour and morality when confronted with the imminent, worldwide annihilation of our species.
“The real root of it all is my fascination with death and my fear of dying,” laughs Zilditch. “That’s probably where it all started. I just really love films where the big cataclysmic event is happening and the people have to band together, but my favourites are the ones that focus on the people and what the people would really be like when this was happening, as opposed to the event overshadowing the whole thing – [such as] Ben Affleck on an asteroid having to save the world.
“I prefer just a really intimate story – what would it really be like? [It’s] real people dealing with a larger than life situation. I guess it’s a love of those sorts of films [that inspired These Final Hours], and this is an attempt of doing my version of one of those sorts of films. When I decided it was going to be the last day on Earth, I started thinking what could be causing that and everything started snowballing from there. Basically it started as a short film idea which expanded to there until I had a feature version on my hands.”
These Final Hours follows the seemingly self-centred James (played by Nathan Phillips) who, on the way to a wild, pre-apocalypse party (more on that later), saves the life of a young girl called Rose who is desperate to find her missing father. Rose’s youthful innocence fascinatingly contrasts James’ hedonism, and her character also serves as a device to address religion in the face of certain death.
“It was completely unavoidable to bring up [religion]. Having the little girl, as the complete polar opposite, the yin to James’ yang, was a really good way to do that. To have someone who just believes that there’s this and then there’s nothing, and to have a little girl who is so optimistic about joining her mum in Heaven. Once I started writing, that was a very natural direction to take the script.”
Aesthetically, These Final Hours is dominated by a yellow hue that Hilditch intended to elicit a “sense of rising heat throughout the entire film.”
“We start golden and drift into an orange and by the end of the film, it’s red. It’s to dial-up this sense of heat, to add that ominous feel to the day, where things get more and more crazy as the day wears on.”
While the cinematography is beautiful, the emotional, raw and gripping performance by Nathan Phillips (Wolf Creek, Snakes On A Plane) lures the audience into his struggle, fostering a feeling of uncomfortable realism and leaving you with an indelible impression.
“When Nathan auditioned for the film, he just blew me away,” explains Hilditch. “I hadn’t seen a lot of Nathan’s film history, but when he laid down his audition, I was just like, ‘Wow, this guy, this is my James right here.’ He really made it very easy. He just got the script – we’re born seven days apart, we’re both Capricorns,” Hilditch chuckles. “It was one of those win-win situations. I look back at it now, and there’s no one else who could’ve pulled this off. He brought so much more than was even on the page. He just got who this guy was.”
These Final Hours contains some seriously horripilating moments, particularly the debauched party scene where heavy drug use, orgies and even a very confronting game of Russian roulette illustrate the decay of social customs in humanity’s last moments. I wondered what Hilditch himself would be doing, if faced with Earth’s final hour.
“I don’t know what I’d be doing but it wouldn’t be pretty!” he laughs. “When I was deciding what the party should be like, one day I realised, ‘It should be just like the worst Australia Day party ever.’ An Australian Day party times a thousand. We just needed it to be as raucous as possible – there must have been over 150 extras – dancing, lots of flesh, Russian roulette. Each take got more and more intense. That was definitely one of the more funner days.”
BY NICK TARAS
These Final Hours is having its world premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival, screening at Greater Union on Friday August 2, ACMI on Tuesday August 6, and Hoyts Melbourne Central on Saturday August 10.