I had no idea this was an Antipodean film when I heard about it, but I’m always interested in last-man-on-the-Earth movies. What a pleasant surprise.
One can imagine very tight budgets for feature films in mid 1980s New Zealand, and this film wrangles every possible shock and all possible suspense with the meagre budget.
The streets of Auckland empty of cars and people don’t quite match the visual power of New York strewn with cars, weeds and crumbling architecture from I Am Legend, but director Geoff Murphy (assisted by his AD, one Lee Tamahori) does with scripting, music and mood what Hollywood does with a fat chequebook.
Scientist Zac (Lawrence) awakens one morning in the grip of a nightmare and starts driving to work, soon realising the streets around him are unnervingly empty.
We’re given some inkling of the cause when Zac shows up to his deserted laboratory workplace. A top secret US weapons program Zac’s team has been working on has been deployed, and apparently wiped everyone on earth except for Zac out.
The obligatory scenes of him driving a nicer car, moving to a mansion and living the fantasy are thrillingly dour and tinged with the insanity he’s starting to feel – not the way Hollywood would do it. Just watch him spin aimlessly around looking at an empty sports stadium in a dress or proclaim his emperorship to a crowd of mannequins with the cut-outs of the faces of historical figures stuck on them.
Zac isn’t the last man however, and when Joanne and later Api show up, politics seeps into their tiny circle of three. Worse still, the ‘effect’ (as they take to calling it) looks like happening again, and they only have one chance to put things right.
The final image you’ve seen on the poster and marketing if you’ve ever taken any notice of the movie is haunting and beautiful, even though seemingly unrelated to the plot. Has Zac died and gone to heaven? Is he in an alternate reality? Is he dreaming again? Has Earth been blown out of orbit?
The camerawork is haunting and the mood is serene and cautious. Lawrence is nothing like a typical leading hero type, and the film (co-written by him) is all the better for it. If you like science fiction, this is the cerebral type, more Silent Running than Star Wars.
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