At the beginning, a man (Bruno Lawrence) wakes up splayed naked on a bed. He’s groggy, soaked in sweat, and disoriented. It is a startling opening shot, full frontal and everything. He is not really vulnerable, he is just… there. You are not really sure what his deal is. It might just seem like a bad start to his morning, except it is going to get worse… much worse. He leaves the house, seemingly on his regular routine, to find out that the streets, the town, the city, the world is completely deserted. Every living thing is simply gone.
What would you do if you were the last person on earth? Would you panic? Would you loot? Would you give up hope and kill yourself? Would you go feral? This man has a sneaking suspicion that he may have actually played a part in the disaster, as he was part of a high-tech research project (of course run by the Americans). Something about energy grids and pulses and what have you. They thought there might be a side effect, but why was he still around?
The first half of The Quiet Earth is very effective. Though it is low budget, special effects are barely needed as the emptiness of what used to be bustling civilation is inherently creepy. At its best, The Quiet Earth invokes The Twilight Zone (specifically making me think of the episode where a man just wanted to be left alone to read, then all of humanity disappears, only for him to accidentally step on his glasses, leaving him basically blind). Without giving away any more of the plot, the second half introduces some additional plot lines which make it a more typical post-apocalyptic scenario.
However, the movie overall is intriguing and ambitious, boasting one of the more famous head scratching final shots of any sci-fi movie. The Quiet Earth is rightly an indie sci-fi classic that is worth checking out.
Released on Blu-ray after being out of print, the film includes feature commentary by physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (who says it is one of his favorite films) and Odie Henderson, a critic for RogerEbert.com. There is also a booklet included with an essay by Teresa Heffernan, an English professor who writes about post-apocalyptic culture.