Z for Zachariah (2015)

Directed by Craig Zobel
Written by Nissar Modi

Few actors have been on as much of a hot streak as Margot Robbie and Chiwetel Ejiofor in my opinion. Coming off great turns in The Wolf of Wall Street and 12 Years a Slave, respectively, the pair get a chance once again to showcase their chops, this time together for the first time. But Z for Zachariah is a far different film than Wolf or 12 Years. It is a film that many people won’t see and many others likely will never hear of. An overly simple and low budget independent film, Z for Zachariahis the type of move that could easily gain a following for its unique take on its subject matter (survival after a global catastrophe), for its incredible (albeit small) cast, and for the continuing impressive filmmaking by director Craig Zobel.

Oddly enough, Z for Zachariah doesn’t feature a Zachariah at all. Instead, our central character is Ann Burden (Robbie), a young woman who has survived presumed nuclear fallout by living in a valley that seem immune to the fallout (likely due to geography and weather patterns). Her solitude is soon interrupted by Loomis (Ejiofor), a scientist with a safe-suit who ventured out of his underground sanctuary in search of a more fulfilled life. The two begin to work together to survive, but their partnership is threatened when another man, Caleb (Chris Pine) shows up. Ann, who had been falling for Loomis, finds herself attracted to Caleb, and Loomis is unsure of Caleb’s intentions. The three struggle to find a way to survive together.

To its credit, Z for Zachariah manages to raise some really interesting questions on the subject manner, and it does so in a very subtle way, which sets it apart from other, more in your face post-apocalyptic type films. It is not an action or thriller movie, as there are no zombies. Instead, Zachariah is a thinking man’s movie, which ambles along at a relaxed pace which downplays the tension present between its characters, only to surprise the audience when things really heat up. It may actually be too slow for its own good, lacking any true climax or threatening tension. Zobel provides just enough to create intrigue and to get the audience thinking, but never enough for them to truly hold on to.

The cast, as small as it may be, is outstanding. Robbie once again proves she is a young actress to watch, delivering a fully realized and sympathetic character, whose heart is broken, yet remains wide open and hopeful. Robbie gives Ann the right amounts of strength, independence, weakness and caring. If there was an oddity it would be Pine, whose Caleb seems ominous the whole time he is on screen. Zobel frames him as a threat from the beginning, and Pine gives us moments to doubt this framing, but ultimately his fate was never in doubt. Ejiofor brings balance to the trio.

Z for Zachariah strikes me as the type of film that may grow in reflection and especially in rewatches. My initial viewing was not truly a satisfying one. I was left somewhat cold, wanting more, and bored at time quite frankly. But in the few days following my viewing, I could not help but think about the film, and the themes it tackles, the situations it presents, and the questions it asks. For this reason, I think the film depends on what the viewer brings to the table. It is an interesting (hesitated to call it fun) exercise to contemplate how you might react in a similar, isolated, post-apocalypse situation. How will we interact with others, how will we learn to trust, to love again before building civilization back? Z for Zachariah teases these musing, and ends up leaving a lot to the viewer to fill in for its full effect, for better or worse.

*** – Good


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