There have been a trickle of films dealing with the vagiaries of human behaviour in the last moments before the end of the world – Last Night, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, 4.44: Last Day on Earth, Melancholia, Tres Dias. Here’s an Australian entry in the cycle, written and directed by Zak Hilditch, which subliminally evokes On the Beach as a meteor hit on the other side of the world sends a tidal wave of fire around the globe, wiping out all life with Perth as the last place to go.
James (Nathan Phillips), a young guy, leaves pregnant Zoe (Jessica De Gouw) in her beach house and sets out to hook up with his other, richer, trashier girlfriend Vicky (Kathryn Beck) at a wild party Vicky’s brother Freddy (Daniel Henshall) is throwing before making a futile retreat into a bomb shelter. Driving through a montage of chaos – encountering a madman with a machete and other freak-out folk – he sees a couple of thugs dragging a screaming, pleading ten-year-old girl, Rose (Angourie Rice), into a house, presumably so they can spend the last few hours of humanity indulging in consequence-free paedophile rape. Against his instincts, James intervenes and rescues Rose, whom he now needs to get rid of … though she wants him to take her to her aunt’s place to be with her father at the end. James visits his sister and finds that she and her family have committed suicide … goes to the party, where out-of-control gets even wilder as he has an argument with the understandably demented Vicky and Rose is drugged by a mad woman (Sarah Snook, of Predestination) who wants her to be her own vanished daughter. James and Rose make calmer visits, to James’ estranged mother (Lynette Curran), who is doing jigsaw puzzles, and the aunt’s place, scene of another mass suicide (or murder) before James returns alone to Zoe (‘life is stronger than death’, we’ve been told) for a climax that evokes On the Beach and The Last Wave as a big burn (‘it’s beautiful’) engulfs the last lovers.
It has a bleached, depopulated, effectively catastrophe-struck feel, and the reason so many films address the premise is that it’s always thought-provoking and affecting. Hilditch lets us infer what kind of guy James used to be from the stalled relationships he has to address during his detour into heroism but doesn’t burden us with too many speeches – it may be that keeping busy by helping Rose is James’ version of doing crossword puzzles, getting smashed, participating in an orgy, killing people or committing suicide: just a way to avoid thinking about it all.