Scientist Zac Hobson (Bruno Lawrence) awakes one morning to realise he may be the only person left alive on Earth. Left to wander through a deserted New Zealand landscape, Zac discovers that all life has apparently vanished, literally overnight.
Half-eaten meals sit unfinished in their trays, empty cars are strewn recklessly about the roadways and, in one inspired scene, Zac passes by a random blaze in a levelled building, caused by a felled Air New Zealand jet, devoid of passengers but with its seatbelts fully buckled.
Disoriented, the scientist returns to the high-tech research establishment where he was employed, only to learn that a covert global operation called Project Flashlight – run in conjunction with the US Defense Department – has had something to do with the catastrophic ‘Effect’ that has eliminated all life from the planet.
At first, he can’t process what’s happened, slipping between bursts of madness and self-pitying despair, but he gradually develops a way of life, plundering the deserted metropolis, impulsively looting department stores, feeding his uncontrolled whims, until he eventually degenerates into a morass of alcohol and depression.
Bruno Lawrence gives a beguiling central performance as someone who is suddenly able to live out his fantasies, to enjoy the empty city without guilt or interference.
Shot against stunning Auckland backdrops by Geoff Murphy, the acclaimed Kiwi director of the Maori historical drama Utu (1983), the early section develops a strong sense of mystery, but after Lawrence discovers two other survivors – Joanne (Alison Routledge) and Api (Pete Smith) – the script follows an all too predictable path.