Teasing Threads – Sundry Film and Literary Criticism: Zac Hilditch’s ‘These Final Hours’

Chris Palazzolo on These Final Hours, directed by Zac Hilditch 2014.

The most primitive form of human expression is a baby’s cry; inarticulate blocks of sound broken by whoops of breath. The needs this sound gives voice to are as basic as the sound itself; feed me, hold me, keep me warm. The sound and needs combined is the purest, clearest ego, unmarked by bodily discipline or language. Gradually, over the following months, those blocks of sound begin to form new shapes in the baby’s mouth, as the sounds of its immediate environment (language, music, movement), and the regularising of its bodily functions (nappies, baths, breastfeeding) begin to mark patterns of repetition on its ego and its subjectivity begins to take shape.

If Zac Hilditch’s These Final Hours is, according to critics, among the best West Australian films, then our baby is a good analogy for the stage West Australian filmmaking is at; primitive and imitative. These Final Hours is set in the capital city of Perth. The end of the world is nigh; a meteor has hit the planet and has wiped out all life, but because Perth is so remote from the rest of the world, the annihilating firestorm hasn’t reached it yet. The citizenry have a few hours to make their peace. Most blotto themselves with booze, drugs, sex and random violence, but one man finds his peace in care for the people he loves. The basis of this premise is a very Perthian sense of futility; a city with a first world standard of living, as media saturated as any other first world city (and so fully informed about the ‘mediated’ world), but whose remoteness from the centres of civilisation creates a sense of not being actors in any way in that world, or even of its own destiny. This is basically the same premise as Neville Shute’s On the Beach, which was set in Melbourne in the 1950s, though the premise of On the Beach is more logical than These Final Hours because the conflagration is a geopolitical event (nuclear war) not a cosmic event in which geopolitical remoteness is meaningless. The narrative itself is very much like Cormac Macarthy’s The Road, where the apocalyptic landscape (Perth’s northern suburbs of macmansions, graffiti-free warehouse shopping centres, and Dawn of the Dead style shopping centre car parks) is the stage for a survivalist tract of the war of all against all, where one last man holds onto a shred of humanity by rescuing a child and returning to his family.

There’s no denying the brute energy of the film, scenes are expertly staged and beautifully shot, and it is enormously gratifying to see my own city’s streets and built landscape as the setting, but, like the blocks of pure sound that issue from a newborn’s mouth, this is a very monotonous and untextured portrayal of the human life that inhabits that landscape. The premise of the end of the world is a device to accentuate or heighten, perhaps accelerate, patterns of human relationships usually to the point of violence (only humans can be violent), and so enable us to observe truths about humanity, about differences and fellowship and love. But there only seems to be one kind of demographic here, and that is the new class of young blue collar nouveau riche for which apparently Perth is a paradise (there are middle classes, but they’re all up in the hills and are all dead by the time we get there.) This tends to flatten any sense of difference between the characters; one distinguishes himself by mending his ways, but the rest seem uniformly potty, drenched in a kind of cashed-up bogan eschatology (compare this to the ensemble of characters in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.) Furthermore, only white people seem to live here; no Indians, no Asians, no Africans, and no indigenous people (Perth has one of the largest continuing indigenous presences of any Australian capital city and is the only one to have Native Title recognised on all its crown land); so bland is this white bogan plane of consistency one wonders what’s the big loss when the tsunami of fire finally arrives.

these final hours

 – Chris Palazzolo


Teasing Threads is Chris Palazzolo, novelist and poet, editor at Regime Books in Perth, radio host on 6EBA FM North Perth, and manager of one of the last video shops in the world – Network Video, Roleystone.

You can find out more about Teasing Threads here:  https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2015/07/10/introducing-chris-palazzolos-teasing-threads-sundry-film-and-literary-criticism/

The official These Final Hours website can be found at http://thesefinalhours.com.au/