On July 5th in Hamilton, New Zealand, at 6:12 AM, the sun darkens for a second and a red light is seen. When Zac Hobson (Bruno Lawrence), a scientist working for Delenco on something called Project Flashlight, awakens, he finds his radio unable to tune in to any station. He dresses and drives into the deserted city. He finds the burning wreckage of a jet plane, but there are no bodies in the seats.
He arrives at his laboratory but is unable to contact any other labs in the world. Underground, he finds one dead body at a control panel with a message “Project Flashlight Complete.” Radiation causes the lab to seal him inside, so he builds a bomb to free himself. His own voice on a tape says, “The project has phenomenal destructive potential,” and adds, “There has been a malfunction in Project Flashlight with devastating results. It seems I am the only person left on Earth.”
After a week of being unable to contact another human being, he moves into a mansion and steals things from a mall, but his mental state declines. He wears a woman’s nightgown, assembles cardboard cut-outs of Adolf Hitler, Elizabeth II, and John Paul II, and addresses the cut-outs from a balcony. He declares himself President of This Quiet Earth and goes on a rampage when the power goes out. He breaks into a church, shoots the statue of Jesus, and announces he is God. He finds himself with the barrel of a shotgun in his mouth.
One morning, a young woman named Joanne (Alison Routledge) appears and they become a couple. They find a large Maori man named Api (Pete Smith). They realize that at the moment of the effect, they were all at the point of death. Api was drowning, Joanne was being electrocuted by a hairdryer, and Zac had overdosed on pills, worried about Project Flashlight.
A love triangle is happening, but Zac is more interested in other things. Universal physical constants are changing, the sun’s output is fluctuating. He thinks the effect is happening again and he decides to destroy Delenco to stop it. They drive a truck full of explosives into the installation, but Zac detects radiation building up. He goes into town for a remote-control device.
Api and Joanne have sex. Api says he will sacrifice himself by driving the truck. Then they hear the truck and realize Zac is driving it. At the explosion, the effect takes place. The red light appears in a dark tunnel. Zac is lying face down on a beach. Waterspouts are in the sea. A ringed planet rises over the horizon.
Nobody knows what the last image means, including the writer, Sam Pillsbury. He thinks dying a second time as the effect happens might have sent Zac on to another planet. However enigmatic, the movie received good reviews and has become a cult film. It is one of Neil de Grasse Tyson’s favorites. In 2014, it was listed as the tenth best New Zealand movie of all time and was the first SF film made in New Zealand. The film was based on Craig Harrison’s novel “The Quiet Earth” from 1981, but the story is very similar to a 1959 episode of the Twilight Zone entitled “Where is Everybody?” The time on the clocks (6:12) is said to refer to Revelations 6:12, about a great earthquake, the sun turning black, and the moon turning red. Whether Zac has moved on to another planet, or the planet itself has changed, or all of reality has changed, is pretty much anybody’s guess. But this is probably the most thoughtful example of an end-of-the-world movie, which tend to go for action or horror.