The Quiet Earth (1985): New Zealand – directed by Geoff Murphy
Rated R by the MPAA – contains nudity and a little sex
This is a little bit of an odd movie. It’s a post-apocalyptic film from New Zealand, but set in a slightly different vein than most mainstream post-apocalyptic films. It unfolds gradually, and mostly successfully, until it loses its way toward the end.
Bruno Lawrence stars as Zac Hobson. He wakes up naked one morning in his bed as a strange light flashes in his mind. He stumbles around, gets dressed, and heads to work. Along the way, though, he notices several odd things. There is still electricity, but no radio is being broadcast and the phones don’t work sometimes.
Odder still is the abundance of empty cars he finds on the roadways. Upon spotting a locked restroom stall he peers in: it’s locked from the inside and there’s a magazine on the ground, but no one in sight. Pretty soon he starts to realize the obvious; he’s the last man on earth. Don’t worry, though, because this film doesn’t turn into an adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel.
Instead of featuring odd zombie/vampire creatures like the Vincent Price movie did, the focus here is on the one man. As he realizes there is no one around he starts to go slightly crazy. Additionally, he was a scientist in a lab working for some American companies. They had some interesting projects they were working on and he’s afraid he might have been partially responsible for the mass disappearance of everyone on the planet.
The background and reason for the apocalypse (there hasn’t been any violence or nuclear war, just instant vaporization of every man, woman, and child) slowly unfolds as the movie progresses. At a certain point in the film it seems like the filmmakers realized they would have to go somewhere with the plot, and, unfortunately, as it progresses toward the end it starts to falter and fall apart.
But it does do many things right. Lawrence is very interesting and engaging, and the atmosphere and aesthetic are effectively creepy. I’m also a sucker for anytime the world disappears, so it’s great to see empty streets, cars, hospitals, and entire cities.
It’s impressive that this is a low-budget effort from New Zealand. I’ve always been amazed at how supportive both New Zealand and Australia are for new filmmakers who want to bring some different ideas to fruition. Unfortunately, the film does fall apart and can’t be considered an unqualified success. I also just wanted to note that though there is some nudity and sex in the film, it is generally natural to the plot and story. At the same time it’s not exploitative or intended to titillate like so much nudity in American films exists to do.
Regardless, if you’re interested in anything post-apocalyptic, or in films from New Zealand, this definitely is worth seeking out. It offers some interesting perspectives on the theme of being the last man on earth, and deals with some interesting (and dubious) science regarding how something like that could happen. I did enjoy the film, overall, but plot problems coupled with some shaky editing tend to derail the production.