CINEMATIC EXTINCTION

Not to be confused with disaster flicks like San Andreas, Armageddon, or 2012, the Australian doomsday film These Final Hours (2013) offers no hope of survival for anyone. It’s the end of the world, folks: Time to get your act together or not. Time to find out what kind of person you really are.

Unlike the earlier films, These Final Hours focuses squarely on characters rather than special effects. That does not mean it’s dull. Far from it. Despite the foregone conclusion, there are the excitement and suspense one might associate with a thriller, and the film certainly does not skirt away from sex and violence. In the end (quite literally), the viewer (like the characters) confronts the imponderable.

No explicit explanation is given for the apocalypse, but one can deduce that an astrological collision of some sort is engulfing the world in a tsunami of fire, moving from one continent to another. The movie opens in the coastal Australian city of Perth, where James (Nathan Phillips) has just learned from his girlfriend Zoe (Jessica De Gouw) that she’s pregnant. Though he loves her, he chooses to face extinction elsewhere, initially abandoning her for an End-of-the-World party with his former squeeze.

James embarks on an odyssey, the journey mirroring an internal road to self-discovery and moral growth. On the way to the party, driving through the wrecked and abandoned debris of the suburbs, he rescues nine-year-old girl Rose (Angourie Rice) from a couple of pedophiles. Then he’s confronted by a distraught policeman who begs James to kill him and his family. Meanwhile, Rose is begging James to take her to her father so that she can be with family as the end comes.

Arriving at his own destination, The Party to End All Parties, James must make the ultimate decision about where and with whom he will meet his end. Then Rose who falls into the hands of one of the muddled partygoers (Sarah Snook), who’s convinced the little girl is her own daughter.

Intelligent and engrossing, These Final Hours also features stunning cinematography and stellar performances, particularly from Phillips and the truly remarkable young Rice. Like Stanley Kramer’s similarly themed On the Beach (which also takes place in Australia), the movie transcends its tragedy with an affirmation of the human spirit.

Winner of several awards at film festivals in 1998, the Canadian film Last Night takes a very different approach to the same theme of imminent global extinction, in Toronto. Rather than focusing on one or two characters as they ready themselves during the final hours, writer/director/star Don McKellar moves back and forth between a variety of individuals whose paths intertwine haphazardly but to great purpose.

Why the world is ending at midnight is even less defined than in Final Hours. Neither of these movies is described as science-fiction; their initial premise (we hope) is the only sci-fi aspect. The folks in Toronto, though, face their doom with more restraint, though no less despair, than their mates Down Under.

One business executive (David Cronenberg, in a rare appearance) sends a personal message to each customer, thanking them for their patronage. A young woman (Sandra Oh) tries to find her way back home so she can end her life in a suicide pact with her husband. A man comes to the end of a long bucket list of sexual experiences, including a tryst with his former French teacher (Geneviève Bujold). McKellar’s character Patrick, grief-stricken by his wife’s recent death, seeks solitude but instead finds renewed love.

Witty and moving, Last Night affirms (like These Final Hours) what it means to live in spite of death.

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october, 2021

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