There’s no shortage of post-apocalyptic thrillers exploring mankind’s efforts to survive radiation, deadly viruses, zombies and gas shortages after the world has gone to hell, but the number of movies that look at humanity’s actions leading up to an inevitable apocalypse are far rarer. The under-seen ’80s gem Miracle Mile and the more recent Seeking a Friend for the End of the World are two excellent but very different takes on the subject, and now a new Australian import has entered the fray with genuinely exciting results.
James (Nathan Phillips) is leaving the woman he loves to attend the party to end all parties. A giant, devastating wall of fire is making its way around the globe, and while most of the planet has already seen its life forms exterminated in the flames James’ home in Australia is one of last refuges. Death will make its way across the ocean in less than twelve hours, and he wants nothing more than to smoke, drink and screw his way into oblivion. That’s what he’s tells himself anyway as he leaves behind the woman he loves to head toward the party.
His decision is tested when he witnesses someone dragging a young girl, kicking and screaming, into a house. The futility of risking your life to save a life mere hours before all life on Earth is destroyed isn’t lost on him, but James decides to intervene anyway. Two dead men later, James is promising to return Rose (Angourie Rice) to her family, but first he wants to poke his head into that party.
These Final Hours is equal parts human drama and nihilistic thriller as we see a collision between the best and worst mankind has to offer. Writer/director Zak Hilditch’s film drops us into world on the brink – there’s no hope or effort to avoid the impending demise, death is inevitable – and while James and his friends are intent on partying their way into oblivion the film doesn’t shy away from those who chose or were forced onto a darker route.
Some choose suicide, others choose murder. It’s chaos in the streets and behind closed doors, and even James’ party has descended into a microcosm of debauchery, abuse and Russian roulette. Against this hellish backdrop is his dueling desires to go out numb to it all or doing what’s right. His efforts to help Rose make him a target, and it’s added drama atop the doubts, fears and feelings of love roiling within him.
Cinematographer Bonnie Elliott shoots the naturally warm Perth with an even hotter lens creating a landscape believably on the verge of a fiery apocalypse, and at under ninety minutes Hilditch keeps the film moving – physically, emotionally – until the final minutes. That short running time leaves little room for deep characterization, but the shorthand of the situation and of Phillips’ performance make James’ journey clear and relatable.
He travels the extremes between wanting to sidestep the pain all together and trying instead to face it in the arms of someone he loves and who loves him back, and Phillips captures the desires, rage and fears well. Rice is even more impressive as the young girl brought face to face with man’s worst impulses. She’s a child in way over her head, but she surfaces in moments of earned maturity that show real talent. The always fantastic Sarah Snook has a small role here too, and while she’s mostly wasted in its one-note craziness she’s still worth watching.
These Final Hours is a dramatically thrilling addition to the pre-apocalypse genre – there’s a simplicity to some of it, a predictability too, but it’s as surefooted in its suspense and action beats as it is during its emotional ones, and it’s well worth adding to your list of movies to see before the end of the world.
These Final Hours opens on VOD and in limited theatrical release starting today.
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Rape-revenge films are an acquired taste for obvious reasons, but for every one that manages to entertain there are seemingly a dozen or more that simply offend with the crass cruelty and lack of talent. Basically, for every Last House on the Left remake there are several Last House on the Left originals. (Yeah, I said it.) These days it takes more than just the simple basics of the same old story to really stand apart from the sleazy crowd, and the new film Avenged (aka Savaged, probably re-titled for understandable PC concerns) manages to do just that.
Zoe (Amanda Adrienne) is a deaf young woman who strikes out on a road alone to join her fiance (Marc Anthony Samuel) in New Mexico. She runs into trouble when she witnesses some rowdy rednecks terrorizing and ultimately killing a pair of young Native American men before being abducted by the punks for their own entertainment. The gang ultimately leaves her for dead, but when an older Native American attempts to save her life with ancient mumbo jumbo he inadvertently allows the spirit of a vengeful Apache warrior into her body. Soon a resurrected but rotting Zoe is avenging not only her own assault but also the suffering of past tribes at the hands of white men.
And she’s a very messy avenger indeed. (As evidenced by the shot above of Zoe pulling a man’s intestines from his gut while he watches in pained disbelief.)
Director/co-writer Michael S. Ojeda’s second feature is a low-budget affair through and through, but he delivers a lot of bang for the buck thanks to a a fresh take on the genre, an embrace of the ridiculous and a sincere enthusiasm. Make no mistake, there is some goofy shit going on here – it favorably recalls Ninja III: The Domination at times – but Ojeda and his cast play things deadly serious. That runs the risk of hurting the film, but instead the commitment helps in the long run with the unexpected presence of real heart.
Speaking of hearts, it’s just one of the internal organs that gets ripped from some poor guy’s torso by a pissed off and possessed Zoe. The gore is plentiful and well-crafted, and fans of the wet stuff will not be disappointed. There’s some CG on display too which doesn’t fare nearly as well – it’s like late ‘80s-level visual effects – but they’re forgivable in the spirit and scale of what Ojeda’s trying to do here on his miniscule budget. One of terrible effects shots occurs after an exciting fight sequence in the back of a moving pick-up, but rather than ruin what came before it simply ends the sequence with a smile.
Again, while the movie is unavoidably silly at times it isn’t played light-hearted. Zoe’s pain is real and evident in the moments where she surfaces from the undead Indian chief’s supernatural control – Adrienne does solid work delivering silent emotion and noisy ass-kickings. Ojeda thankfully doesn’t rub our faces in her abuse at the hands of the villains, but her suffering is palpable all the same. The story complicates when her boyfriend arrives in town in search of her, and it allows for some legitimately touching scenes as she realizes what’s at stake and what’s already been lost.
Avenged suffers from a low budget, some simplicity in the bad guys and Ojeda’s unnecessary insistence on applying a grindhouse filter over the film, but damn if the movie doesn’t overcome these stumbling blocks to deliver some frequently bloody, occasionally cheesy and surprisingly heartfelt thrills.
Avenged opens in limited theatrical release starting today.