Have you ever chosen to watch a film solely based on an image that you’ve seen floating around the internet that originated from said film? This was my experience with The Quiet Earth (1985, dir. Geoff Murphy), and I was very pleasantly surprised. I had seen the image from the final scene of the film numerous times and was so intrigued by it that I knew I had to include The Quiet Earth in my Blindspot Series for 2015. A synopsis:
A man wakes up to find himself literally alone in the world, and goes about trying to find other survivors, as well as to find out what happened. He suspects that a government research project he was involved in had something to do with the disappearance of everyone. Eventually he finds several other people, and once they begin to trust each other they try to figure out why they were left on earth. (source)
This film is a slow burner, but once it gains momentum, you’re hooked in until the end. The story plugs along at the perfect pace as the viewers are drip-fed information about the strange and isolated world that our characters find themselves in. I find stories like these so fascinating – ones where a strange event has occurred off-screen and the characters have to fend for themselves, and/or have to figure out what exactly has happened to the world that they find themselves in. I loved this about The Quiet Earth also; with its characters who conveniently happen to be those who are able to shed light on their new world on a scientific level, an emotional level, and a spiritual level. What would you do if you were the only person left alive on earth and everyone else had mysteriously disappeared? How would you even begin to come to terms with a predicament such as this? The film does an excellent job at showing the ways that different types of people understand and negotiate their new world.
The film begins with one Zac Hobson (Bruno Lawrence), a scientist working for a very mysterious project entitled “Project Flashlight”; a scientific test which could have serious consequences for the structure of the universe as we know it. Zac wakes up on what feels like a normal day, apart from the strange visions that plague him upon opening his eyes. Zac awakes, seemingly the only man alive on earth. Watching Zac learn about this new world was part disturbing as he realises his predicament, and part humorous as Zac tests the limits of the world and his position within it. When Zac finds Joanne (Alison Routledge), the scene where they meet for the first time is so beautiful and reminds the viewer that humans really are pack animals who need others around to stay sane and to survive. The difference between the two is palpable; he’s a loner and doesn’t seem to be too bothered by the sitution, but she misses her family and feels grief and guilt for surviving. The two decide to survive and search for further signs of life whilst their romance blossoms. When Api (Pete Smith) finds the two and is introduced into the mix, the dynamic shifts further, and the mood becomes stressful as they realise their time may be limited. I loved these performances so much. They were all the perfect mix of humour and bleakness that suited the tone of the film, particularly Bruno Lawrence, whose descent into madness was performed in a gradual and completely believable manner.
I believe the version of The Quiet Earth that I watched was not remastered, the film was grainy and it overall looked quite low budget. But I really think that this adds to the effectiveness of the film. It’s not shiny and new, it doesn’t look like it has had a cast of thousands crafting the special effects, there’s a simplicity in the way that it conveys information that allows its point of view to be uncluttered. As a result, the film feels real (possibly also because the film is a New Zealand production, the accents and general attitude of which I am quite familiar with). The low budget effects somehow look more realistic as a result of the grainy quality, and the creepy and disorienting images of what Zac terms “The Effect” are simple yet frightening. The direction was particularly wonderful, with a casual use of jump scares to keep the viewers on their toes.
The Quiet Earth is such an intriguing film. Not only is the ending one of the best I’ve seen; a killer cliffhanger that, instead of making you feel frustrated, inspires a sense of wonderment and awe that is unparalleled. Credits roll over the most intense and mystifying moment of the film, causing viewers to ask so many questions that will go unanswered. Since watching The Quiet Earth for the first time I haven’t really stopped thinking about it. This is a film that strings you along as you watch it, asking yourself what the heck happened to the world and the people within it. I’m happy to also say that this is one of amazing astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s top ten favourite sci fi films. A pretty amazing film that is well worth a watch for lovers of sci fi or post-apocalyptic dramas.
Watch the trailer here (warning: probably one of the most spoiler-ridden trailers in the history of film).