Z for Zachariah

z-for-zachariah-poster

Director: Craig Zobel

Writer: Nissar Modi; based on the book by Robert C. O’Brien

Cast: Margot Robbie as Ann Burden, Chiwetel Ejiofor as John Loomis, Chris Pine as Caleb

Rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, partial nudity, brief strong language

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes

IMDB page: www.imdb.com/title/tt1598642

 

Plot: After surviving a nuclear catastrophe, a woman gives shelter to two men on her isolated farm.
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So, you’ve made it through the apocalypse. You’ve got a nice, protected valley, with clean water and fertile land, and two other people to help you care for it. What do you do?

  1. Set aside personal differences to plan for long-term survival
  2. Try to find others and begin rebuilding society
  3. Act like dumb, hormonal teenagers.

If you picked A. or B., congratulations – you’re smarter than the characters in Z for Zachariah. They make a few cursory attempts to plan and rebuild, but their most pressing concern is, “Who gets to bang the prom queen?”

While Zobel wastes the audience’s time and the cast’s talent on this topic, there are moments when the story hints at something more interesting. While the exact nature of the disaster is unexplained, its aftermath is referenced a few times, and it offers the characters a fleeting (then abandoned) chance at depth. Ann and Caleb are both devout Christians, which complicates their interactions with the non-religious John. That doesn’t go anywhere, either.

Even scenes that look important turn out to be random. John carefully studies some of the books in Ann’s study, but it’s never clear what he’s reading or why. Racial tensions are alluded to, then never brought up again. The existence of other survivors is barely discussed. Zobel and Modi just want to go full soap opera, with jealous glares, meaningful glances, and erratic behavior, signifying nothing.

You start to feel sorry for the actors after a while. Robbie showed in Wolf of Wall Street that she’s much more than just a beautiful face, but she’s essentially reduced to that as soon as Ann becomes a prize for the men to fight over. Pine tones down his Captain Kirk charisma to play someone with a mysterious (possibly dark) side, then gets no chance to explore it. Ejiofor is so naturally fascinating, he gives John layers that aren’t in the script, and he’s the only person whose resume might look better after this.

There is so much wasted potential in Z for Zachariah, it’s more frustrating to watch than a bad-beyond-salvation movie would be. Stories about the end of the world resonate for any number of reasons, and Zobel breezes past every one of them to focus on a story that could be set anywhere. If ever a film needed a good zombie attack or alien invasion to kick its characters’ asses, this is it. 8/30/15

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