Geoff Murphy’s powerful and eerie 1985 apocalyptic thriller The Quiet Earth has tended to sail way under the radar of many fans of this particular storytelling subgenre. Hopefully, this handsome and sparkling new Blu-ray release from Arrow will go some way towards encouraging not only its existing admirers to revisit it but for it to find favour with audiences who might never have sampled its unsettling and occasionally metaphysical charms before.
The late Bruno Lawrence plays New Zealand scientist Zac Hobson who wakes one morning to find - in the traditions of the best apocalyptic fiction - that the world seems to have come to an end. But there are no bodies littering the streets of his hometown of Hamilton, New Zealand and no signs of destruction (although he does stumble upon the flaming wreckage of a downed aircraft, its unoccupied seats still buckled); it looks as if the entire population of the world has vanished overnight. Employed by Delenco, an international consortium working on ‘Operation Flashlight’, an initiative intended to create an interconnected worldwide power grid, Zac hurries to his underground laboratory and reasons that the ‘disappearance’ occurred at the very moment Flashlight was activated around the world.
Zac stops short of taking his own life and tries to settle into a routine of gathering supplies and forging a comfortable existence as ‘President of the Quiet Earth’. Things change, though, when he meets fellow survivor Joanne (Routledge) and, later, a third in the form of burly Maori Api (Smith). The three realise that they appear to have survived as they were all at the very moment of death when what they have come to call ‘the Effect’ occurred. An uneasy love triangle develops but Zac is concerned by his own observations of unusual solar activity, leading to the very real possibility that the Effect might soon happen again. They put aside their burgeoning differences and set off to blow up the Delenco installation in an attempt to avert another catastrophe which could wipe them all out for good…
In many ways, The Quiet Earth presents as the stuff of the traditional ‘end of the world’ scenario. But it’s refreshingly free of the Hollywood gloss which has bedevilled recent entries into the genre; it’s gritty, almost matter-of-fact and rooted four-square in a believable and uncomfortable world brilliantly realised in the first half-hour or so of stunning sequences where Zac explores this new empty world. The film is best remembered for its final sequence; we’ll not spoil it here but Zac’s fate is commendably ambiguous and has, across the years, been the subject of considerable debate from an audience who have been purposely left to come to their own conclusions. Bleak, harrowing (but not without a black sense of humour here and there) and full of memorably haunting imagery, The Quiet Earth punches well above its weight and is a real undervalued classic of apocalyptic cinema. It’s a quiet triumph.
Extras: Commentary, video essay / Kim Newman interview / trailer / stills / reversible sleeve
THE QUIET EARTH (1985) / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: GEOFF MURPHY / SCREENPLAY: BILL BAER, BRUNO LAWRENCE, SAM PILLSBURY / STARRING: BRUNO LAWRENCE, ALISON ROUTLEDGE, PETE SMITH / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 18TH