Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"The Quiet Earth" (1985)

Starring Bruno Lawrence, Alison Routledge and Pete Smith
Written by Bill Baer, Bruno Lawrence and Sam Pillsbury
Directed by Geoff Murphy
Rated R - Violence, language, nudity
Running Time: 91 Minutes

I'm sort of a sucker for post-apocalypse stories, I'm not gonna lie.  "The Quiet Earth" came  recommended as a different sort of take on the genre, so I decided to check it out.

Zac (Bruno Lawrence) awakens one morning and finds that everyone else seems to have disappeared.  He searches and searches, but is unable to find any other living human beings.  Trying to discover what happens, he goes to work - it just so happens that Zac works for something called Project Flashlight, part of a world-wide scientific endeavor to create a world-wide energy grid.  He suspects something has gone wrong with the project, but can't seem to corroborate that theory. 

He sets up a radio message asking anyone to contact him, and begins going on trying to fill the time.  Not long after, he quickly starts to go crazy, solitude and guilt taking its toll.  At one point, he even puts the barrel of a gun in his mouth, but ultimately can't go through with it.  Soon after that, he finally meets another survivor: a young woman named Joanne (Alison Routledge), and the two quickly grow close.  They search for other survivors and scavenge for supplies, while Zac attempts to figure out exactly what happened to all the other people.

Eventually, the two meet a third survivor, Api (Pete Smith).  The three begin to grow close, as well, as Zac comes closer to determining what is happening to the universe.  They discover that each of them survived because the moment everyone else disappeared, was their moment of death.  But things are growing worse.  Not only is the sun becoming unstable, but a dangerous love triangle is developing between Zac, Joanne and Api. 

While many post-apocalypse or 'last man on earth' stories tend to riff on "I Am Legend," and pit the survivors against evil mutants or aliens or what have you, "The Quiet Earth" is slower, more contemplative.  In fact, at just 91 minutes, the film actually feels a good deal longer than that because it moves at such a slow pace.  I wish I could say that I was so enthralled that I didn't notice the running time, but "The Quiet Earth" failed to keep my interest for sustained periods.  There are some interesting ruminations about humanity's arrogance, our attempts to play god, but there are times where I just wish the film would get on with it. 

The actors are up for their roles.  Bruno Lawrence, particularly, does an excellent job descending into madness in his solitude in the early parts of the film.  Alison Routledge is also a nice presence, though Pete Smith isn't particularly compelling or attention-grabbing as Api - though his character, as written, is pretty interesting. 

The twist ending is ... odd.  I'm sure it's one of those 'let's leave things up to the audience to decide' kind of things.  But it leaves the ultimate fates of all three characters in question.  The entire film feels like an extended "Twilight Zone" episode, and this ending just cements that feeling.  But at least the endings of "Twilight Zone" typically make some kind of sense.  I guess when you're talking about changing the fabric of the universe, anything is possible, but... I don't know.

Parts of "The Quiet Earth" are quiet compelling, and if you're a fan of "The Twilight Zone," much of this film will feel familiar.  It's not bad, but it's not great.