It's 6:11 in the morning, and scientist Zac Hobson (Bruno Lawrence) is lying in bed, yet once the clock reads 6:12 something strange has happened, an event that only he will be able to explain. He wakes up in his motel room, sensing all is not quite right, but after dressing and having breakfast Zac leaves and drives to work. Along the way he stops to refill his car's tank, but at the station there is nobody to be seen, nobody to pay the money to, and he drives off confused. This state of mind is not dispelled when he sees vehicles abandoned in the middle of the road, and it dawns on him that there really is no one else around. Where has everybody gone? Could this mass disappearance be connected to the pioneering energy project that Zac was part of? Could be...
The Quiet Earth may not be the most famous of the science fiction genre's apocalypse films, but it makes an impression on all those who watch it. This is possibly because it takes such a hoary old cliché, the last man in the world, and tweaks it, yes, it's the same story of survivors, but there's an eccentric scope to it that engages with the audience. The film was based on a novel by Craig Harrison and adapted by star Lawrence, Bill Baer and Sam Pillsbury (a director in his own right); in many ways Lawrence, one of New Zealand's finest actors, is the production's strongest asset as he carries the first third of the drama alone, and makes for compelling company as Zac feels his way around an environment that is familiar but at the same time eerily alien.
After driving through deserted city streets, always a must in these after-the-disaster films, Zac ends up back at the lab and puts two and two together to make five: the Flashlight Project he was involved with has malfunctioned on a global scale and wiped every living thing, apart from the plants, from the Earth. The filmmakers make sure not to simply have their lead actor wandering around for an hour and a half shouting "Anybody there?", so action sequences are thrown into the mix, such as when the radiation from the project shuts down the lab with Zac still inside it, and he has to create an explosion to break back out. Along with that is comedy, as he gets to like his new situation and begins to go increasingly mad, veering between the suicidal and indulging himself.
These early scenes are among the best, with Lawrence moving into a mansion, plays snooker with himself - filmed to look as if he's two separate people, drinks champagne with an egg in it, puts on women's underwear and starts raging at an unseen, possibly absent God. One bit has Zac entering a church wielding a shotgun at the statue of Christ and yelling "Come out or the kid gets it!", a nice example of the film's off kilter humour. It can't go on like this, and once the power finally goes off, Zac spends his time getting used to the lifestyle that has been forced upon him, that is until someone else appears. He is shocked to see Joanne (Alison Routledge), a young woman who has been in the same position as him and they are delighted that they are on their own no longer. However, coping with other people throws up the same old conflicts and tensions, and as Zac pieces together his theories about the catastrophe he realises it might well happen again and a sacrifice must be made. The ending of The Quiet Earth thankfully doesn't diminish its mysteries, and the final shot is pleasingly cosmic. Music by John Charles.