These Final Hours (2013) Review

these-final-hoursTHESE FINAL HOURS (2013)

Director:  Zak Hilditch

Stars: Nathan Phillips, Jessica De Gouw, Kathryn Beck, Angourie Rice, Daniel Henshall, Lynette Curran

A massive object has collided with the Earth, obliterating the Northern hemisphere and sending a destructive wave from the point of impact that will annihilate everything in its path. The people of Australia have just eight hours until it reaches them.

The film opens with irresponsible screw-up James (Nathan Phillips) abandoning Zoe (Jessica De Goew) a girl who loves him and is carrying his child, instead opting to meet his long-term girlfriend Vicky (Kathryn Beck) at the party to end all parties, thrown by Vicky’s brother Freddy (Daniel Henshall). Here James intends to do drugs, drink and screw himself into oblivion.

However, on route James witnesses kidnappers dragging a young girl, Rose (Angourie Rice) into a house.
Unable to stand idly by, James intervenes and finds himself the girl’s custodian of the girl and agreeing to help reunite Rose with her family. Can this flawed and broken man do the right thing for once? Can he save an innocent… and himself?

these-final-hours-1-1Wow, These Final Hours blew me away. The story, the filmmaking, the cast, the themes — it’s fantastic. The story is compelling and provokes some genuine emotion (I felt quite choked up during the latter stages), not least because of some fantastic characterisation.As flawed leads go, Nathan Phillips’s James ticks all the boxes — selfish, weak, irresponsible — yet we still root for him to do the right thing. This is thanks to the superb Phillips. His is a brave, honest performance, and makes for one of the most believable and tragic protagonists I’ve seen in some time.

Likewise Angourie Rice is a revelation — that rare thing, a child actor who is talented but doesn’t come across as precocious. She is more than up to the demands of the role, a role which is more than a simple plot device through which James is offered one last shot at redemption. Rice is a legitimate co-lead and she is just as good as her older partner.

It is the interaction between the two of them that is the heart of the film. It encapsulates some of the movie’s strongest themes — it’s no small irony that after running from his unborn child James still finds himself in the role of guardian to a minor. There’s no running from your parental responsibilities, a message echoed during an emotional visit to James’ mother’s house. His mother (the excellent Lynette Curran) has grown used to being let-down by her son, but there’s still room for him. In fact, after witnessing the way in which James disappoints Vicky, Zoe and his Mum, we can’t help but hope that Rose is the one lady he’ll do right by.

The story (written by director Zak Hildritch) is surprisingly simple, but the richness of the characters ensures it remains captivating. Focusing on personal dilemmas and character arcs, the mysterious cataclysmic event that will end all life on earth is barely explained, but nor does it need to be — it’s the MacGuffin that sparks the personal, intimate storylines.

All this talk of character relationships may lead you to believe that this is a film short on horror. This is not the case. We get some disturbing violence as James and Rose come across individuals who have snapped in the face of inevitable doom and the bloody course they cut through the Australian landscape is horrifying. What’s more there are some wonderful visual effects courtesy of Nathan Stone’s talented team.

thesefinalhours2Yet despite the grimness of the story the film is gorgeously shot. Cinematographer Bonnie Elliot foregoes the usual gloomy look of end of the world flicks, instead embracing the blazing sun of the Australian setting, giving the film a dazzling, saturated look. It feels and looks very different to most genre efforts and ensures that Hildritch’s eye for framing hits with optimum effect.

These Final Hours was the best film I saw at FrightFest. A beautiful, heart-breaking but ultimately hopeful tour de force, it is one of the finest movies I’ve seen in a long, long time. It is an absolute must-see.

10/10

The Babadook (2014) Review

B1The Babadook (2014)

Dir: Jennifer Kent

Written by: Jennifer Kent

Starring: Essie Davis, Daniel Henshall, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinny, Benjamin Winspear

Running Time – 92 mins.

UK Premiere: Frightfest 2014

After losing her husband to an accident on her way to give birth to her son, Amelia (Davis), struggles to cope with her demanding and difficult child, Samuel (Wiseman). Upon discovering a disturbing children’s pop-up book called ‘Mister Babadook’, strange occurrences plague their home and Samuel becomes convinced that the Babadook monster is real.

It’s an all too familiar set-up, a weird child who claims to see monsters and the doubting adults who don’t believe them until it’s too late. So how does The Babadook distinguish itself from the multitude of similar horror films? Thanks to the stunningly assured debut directorial vision of Jennifer Kent, The Babadook doesn’t so much as distinguish itself, rather, it towers above all the competition of films of the same ilk.

With a beautifully dark yet stark colour palate of greys, dull blues and of course, blacks, The Babadook takes place in an austere and bleak Australian town. This excellent establishment of a morbid reality is key to heightening the haunting blurring and ambiguity that is to come later. This flawless art style is matched by the ominous and deceptively sweet-sounding chimes of the soundtrack that add an extra spine-tingling chill to the nightmare fairytale feel of the film.

B4It terms of scares, The Babadook is a proud disciple of the less is more discipline. There is a constant, genuinely terrifying sense of dread from start to finish. This atmosphere is the embodiment of the feeling of being all alone in a house and yet with the sense of being watched. With nearly all the horror contained within the house, aside from a shocking sequence set in a car, the brilliant containment of the action adds to a sense of claustrophobia and no escape.

The monster itself, is a marvellous creation and made all the better for almost always being completely obscured. What the audience does see is almost solely shapes in the shadows, wonderfully evocative of early German expressionism. Just what it is or how it got there remains superbly shrouded in mystery. It could easily just be seen as an average ghoul but there’s several other ways it could be interpreted, just one of them being if it’s actually real and not a manifestation in one of the character’s minds. Certainly what is undeniable is the terrifying onomatopoeic croak it makes.

By far the scariest part of the film is the pop up book. A gross, horrifying perversion of a childhood bedtime story that is seen to almost come to life and simply cannot be gotten rid of. Much like the entire film, it is so simple and yet immaculately presented and hits home in chill-factor with deadly precision.

Strong horror performances are so often ignored in the mainstream awards, making it a pre-determined criminal act that the powerhouse of a performance of Essie Davis as the mother, Amelia, could easily be passed over. Going through a severe emotional wringer, the audience sees Davis enduring a crippling depression that consumes her completely. Kent starkly captures her feeling of total isolation by having her been visibly alienated from both her sister and work colleagues.

B3The cold attitude she has to her son is equally fascinating and particularly dark, certain to lose any sense of sympathy from some watchers. It can only be described as a stunning masterstroke to see her gradual character development as she goes from being a repressed waif like figure to an unhinged and forceful brute. The film wisely leaves the question of possession or madness up in the air as the real focus is on a guilt-ridden mother learning to finally come to love her son. Hauntingly moving in the best possible way.

Young newcomer, Noah Wiseman also delivers a fantastic performance that encapsulates an incredibly believable depiction of a so called ‘problem child’. What frustrates so much about most children in horror is that they’re either disgustingly adorable or just plain creepy. Wiseman is able to balance both displays of obnoxious, selfish and over-protective behaviour that are tempered by some startlingly tender moments. Fundamentally, he is a sweet boy, both smothered and shunned by his mother and who has no friends and therefore it would take a harsh soul not to feel an incredible amount of sympathy towards him. His temper tantrums and shrieking cries of “Don’t Let Him In!” are fantastically piercing and full of raw acting emotion well beyond his years. The completely authentic reactions and dynamic he has with Davis are both integral not only to the development and believability of the characters but also to making the scares and dramatic moments hit with a terribly awesome impact.

With an unexpected but refreshing ending, aside from the fantastic acting turns, the real strength of The Babadook lies in its engaging layers of substantial subtext. Packing the thrills and chills of The Others but with the heavy raw emotion of We Need To Talk About Kevin. The film is a challenging exploration of the social standard that all parents must love their children. Such a focus is certain to spark debate amongst audiences and even, it has to be said, enjoyment of the film could hinge entirely on whether or not the two main characters can be seen to be sympathetic.

B5A genuinely chilling thrill-fest that perfectly taps into the childhood fear of a monster in the closet. With stellar performances from the mother and son leads, this is so much more than your average bogeyman horror. Packed full of intriguing subtext and many covering your face with your hands moments, The Babadook serves as a reminder as to everything a horror film should be.

Rating: 10/10