No salvation for These Final Hours

04 August, 2014 by Don Groves

The producers and distributors of These Final Hours had such faith and confidence in the Apocalyptic thriller they released the film at 164 locations last Thursday.

Today they are pondering why that gamble did not pay off as the film from first-time writer-director Zak Hilditch took $207,000 in its first four days, and $214,000 with two Q&A screenings.

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Despite Roadshow's extensive ad-pub campaign, the per-screen average was about $1,260.

The omens had seemed propitious ever since the thriller won the critics’ prize for best Australian film at the Melbourne International Film Festival last year.

Momentum appeared to build after These Final Hours was invited to screen at Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes in May,  where it got a standing ovation.

Executive producer Robert Connolly, who collaborated with producer Liz Kearney, originally intended to launch the film in a limited number of cinemas via his company CinemaPlus, emulating the tactic that worked well on Tim Winton’s Turning.

But after executives at Roadshow Films saw a print and offered to take on the distribution, a much wider release eventuated.

“We are incredibly disappointed but Roadshow threw everything into the campaign,” Kearney told IF today. “We could not have asked for a better release in terms of their support.”

As Kearney acknowledged, These Final Hours faced tough competition from the first weekend of the Scarlett Johansson starrer Lucy (which was originally dated for the end of August) and previews of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

She is proud of what the film has accomplished, which includes sales to nearly every territory worldwide.

Roadshow was so gung-ho they also picked up the US and UK rights last year, on-selling the thriller to Well Go Entertainment in the US. Kearney said a UK deal is being negotiated.  “We think the film will have an amazing life beyond theatrical,” she said.

Connolly  told IF, "Roadshow gave it their best shot.  As a national cinema we have to have the amibition of making bold and ambitious films for multiplexes. If we lose that we are retreating from the challenge."

On a positive note, he said the massive overses sales mean that These Final Hours is "heading towards being profitable, one of an elite group of Australian films that are profitable."

The plot follows Wolf Creek’s Nathan Phillips as a self-obsessed young guy who makes his way to the party-to-end-all-parties on the last day on Earth but ends up saving the life of a girl (11-year-old Angourie Rice) who’s searching for her father. Sarah Snook, Daniel Henshall, Jessica De Gouw and Kathryn Beck round out the cast.

Rice made her debut in Hilditch’s short film Transmission, the tale of a deadly pandemic and its impact on a father-daughter relationship, which was produced by Kearney and screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

The disappointing opening raises another question: Did cinemagoers read, or pay any attention, to the critics who heaped praise on the film?

Urban Cinefile’s Andrew L. Urban rated the performances as strong and declared, “Hilditch does a spectacular job with limited funds, both in terms of the production values generally, and in managing the difficult, large scale 'end of the world' party sequences. It's an attention grabbing debut.”

The Guardian’s Luke Buckmaster enthused, “The film comes on like rash, with a visceral bleakness that is rare and confronting outside the context of genre horror. And if These Final Hours slips a little in a plot sense, it’s because Hilditch’s focus ultimately lies elsewhere – in creating an experiential, brooding, disgustingly plausible hypothetical universe. By these criteria, These Final Hours is an awesome success.”

The Herald-Sun’s Leigh Paatsch opined , “These Final Hours is by no means perfect, but it won’t be forgotten in a hurry. We need more Australian films like this. Right now.”


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