Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a scene of Sexuality, partial Nudity, and brief Strong Language
Directed by: Craig Zobel
Written by: Nissar Modi
(based on the novel Z FOR ZACHARIAH by Robert C. O’Brien)
Starring: Margot Robbie, Chris Pine & Chiwetel Ejiofor
Z FOR ZACHARIAH immediately caught my attention for a number of reasons. I had heard solid word-of-mouth when this film premiered at Sundance and it was directed by Craig Zobel. That name might not ring a bell, but Zobel is responsible for one of the most controversial movies to come out of the new millennium, COMPLIANCE. I saw that film at Sundance 2012 and found it to be an incredibly disturbing movie with something important to say. Z FOR ZACHARIAH boasts a solid premise that sounded ripe for Zobel to get his hands on. The marketing only confirmed that this would probably be the case, but that’s not what this film is at all. Instead of a psychological dystopian thriller, Z FOR ZACHARIAH is more of a contained drama that happens to use mild science-fiction elements.
A nuclear apocalypse has wiped out most of the world. Not all of the human race is gone though, because Ann Burden is an innocent farm girl living on an unsoiled piece of land. She’s been surviving on her own for years, harvesting what crops she can grow, and hunting with her dog. One day, she comes across a man in a radiation suit who has discovered her little patch of paradise. The man’s name is John and he immediately takes a shine towards Ann. Seeing as they may be the last two people alive on the planet, John decides that he’ll do what he can to preserve a healthy friendship (hopefully more) with Ann. However, the living situation becomes complicated when another survivor, Caleb, strolls across the farm. Ann begins to spark a potential relationship with Caleb, while John becomes jealous. The trio of survivors try to cooperate together, but it appears that tensions are boiling beneath the surface.
Z FOR ZACHARIAH sounds like a thriller. The trailer and poster made it out to be a thriller. Judging from the director, I thought this was going to tackle heavy subject matter and it does…to an extent. Z FOR ZACHARIAH is more of a drama that happens to use science-fiction in its premise. That’s not a bad thing, but the movie does occasionally drag at a snail-like pace. The moral complications about how far our characters will go to make Ann’s land (which they happen to be guests on) more comfortable is intriguing as well as the obvious tensions between two men competing for the affection of one woman. The movie is mostly driven by conversations and those are hit-or-miss depending on the scene. The biggest problem I have with this film comes in the final 10 minutes which feel anti-climactic. I wish there was more to the story than what the screenplay decided to conclude on. Apparently, the novel that this film is based on is totally different from the movie seen on the screen (much like last year’s phenomenal UNDER THE SKIN).
The strongest pieces of Z FOR ZACHARIAH come in two of the three performances. Margot Robbie adopts a Southern accent to play the sweetly naïve Ann who has grown up accustomed to her own way of living. She just happens to be a survivor in the apocalypse. Though her character can be ditzy, that’s all part of who she is and leads to the main moral dilemmas in the story. Even better than Robbie is Chiwetel Ejiofor as John. Chiwetel was incredible in 2013’s 12 YEARS A SLAVE. Here, he plays a character who displays patience, pain and frustration all in equal measure. You can feel sympathy for his situation, but he’s also a difficult character to read in the latter half of the movie. The weakest performance comes from Chris Pine, but I actually blame the script for that. While Ann and John were given time to develop, Pine’s Caleb just shows up out of nowhere to serve as more of a plot device than an actual character. He didn’t seem to have much of a personality and I really didn’t care about his story arc.
Z FOR ZACHARIAH is not the movie that has been sold to us. This is far from a thriller or a deep science fiction story. Instead, this come off as a bit of a morality play crossed with a drama that happens to be set in the apocalypse. Honestly, I might have preferred to see an honest adaptation of the novel this film took its inspiration from, because that sounds far more interesting than this whole movie. However, I can’t deny that I was interested to see where things would eventually go and there are two great performances here (from Robbie and Ejiofor). Pine’s one-note character and the slow pacing might turn some people off, but I thought Z FOR ZACHARIAH was a decent little flick. Not nearly as good as it could or should have been, but decent nonetheless.