The post-apocalypse has become one of the favorite settings for modern day filmmakers. Think about it. We’ve witnessed the aftermath of an earth ravaged by everything from nuclear war to energy depletion to zombie outbreaks. And while some may argue it has been done ad nauseam, I have to say I love it. It’s a setting that offers filmmakers opportunities to put human beings through a plethora of powerful emotional and relational situations.
So right off the bat “Z for Zachariah” places itself in this familiar setting. But the film, directed by Craig Zobel and based on a novel originally published in 1974, shows us several new things and quickly differentiates itself from the post-apocalyptic norm. Flickers of science fiction can occasionally be seen but for the most part it lingers in the background. Instead the film focuses on the most compelling and absorbing dynamic – human drama.
The movie begins after what appears to be a nuclear holocaust. There is no widespread destruction or vast wastelands. Only emptiness and radiation – vacant mountain cities filled with remnants of a once vibrant past. It is here that we meet Ann (Margot Robbie) rummaging through a radiation-soaked town before heading back to her home – a farmhouse in a miraculously radiation-free pocket of territory high in the mountains. Ann is alone, surviving by working the same farmland as her father during her childhood. She also shares her father’s deep faith believing God has sheltered their land for His own purposes.
One day while out hunting Ann is stunned by what she sees – another human being. Roaming a winding mountain road in a radiation suit and pulling a cart full of his belongings is John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor). After a complicated first meeting, Ann brings John to the farm where he begins sharing in the work. John was a scientist and an engineer and is respectful of Ann’s beliefs and gracious for her hospitality. We watch as a unique human relationship is formed, each approaching it from very different walks of life. But things get complicated when a mysterious stranger named Caleb (Chris Pine) arrives; a veritable ‘third wheel’ who brings an entirely new set of emotional complexities to the relationships.
This is the story Zobel seeks to tell. There are no mutated monsters, hordes of zombies, or packs of marauders. Simply three people dealing with their internal and external situations. They could just as well be the last people on Earth which adds a unique perspective to the story. Even in their incredible instances of survival, the basest and most primal human instincts still must be dealt with. And despite their miraculous situations, people will always birth conflict.
But Zobel and writer Nissar Modi look at these things through different lenses. For example there is a deep spiritual element that we see in Robbie’s character and through the rich symbolism sprinkled in the story. It allows for the pondering of several compelling points. But Loomis and Caleb bring interesting twists of perspective that ask a number of thoughtful questions. This was one of the many things that impressed me. Even in its simplicity, the story is an intelligent and nuanced exercise in human examination and internal exploration.
And what a telling performance from Margot Robbie, an actress I had given little attention. She is sublime, turning in a beautifully delicate and stripped-down performance. She is the heart of the film and in many ways its frail moral compass. But right behind her is Ejiofor. In a sagacious performance he gives us the most layered and complex character of the film. Even Chris Pine, and actor who hasn’t always impressed me, is very good in giving us an interesting and cryptic third character. These three make up the entire cast and each deliver on a high level.
“Z for Zachariah” is a breath of fresh air, a post-apocalyptic morality yarn that may play out too slowly for some. It unwinds at a deliberate pace, patiently touching on its subjects while never spelling itself out. Yet there is such a satisfying effectiveness to the slowness. Zobel engages his audience not through the normal and expected genre machinations, but by peeling back revealing layers of humanity. Layers that, when examined by an honest eye, can sometimes be quite ugly. Personally, I found it fascinating.
I’m definitely intrigued now. Thanks, Keith.
Absolutely. Talk about a movie that I was completely absorbed in. So simple but yet so compelling. Bug thumbs up.
Oh, I’m so glad you like it! I love the cast but haven’t heard much about it. Great review. I will check it out!
Awesome! I definitely want to get the word out about it. Really strong movie. It is a slow burn but I think it works in the film’s favor.
I’m a sucker for these post-apocalyptic outings too, and I’ve had my eye on this for a while. Great to hear it praised so highly. Top write-up Keith!
Thanks man. I really, really went for this one. And talk about three top performances. Highly recommend it.
I kind of wrote off Z for Zachariah instantly but I have to say, you’ve really made me question myself. This sounds like a breath of fresh air, and I might just have to watch it to show myself how wrong I was!
I’m a big fan of this movie. It had intrigued me early on but I really had a stronger response to it than I expected. It’s a slow calculated burn but it works so well. Give it a look.
My pal Iba from I Luv Cinema reviewed this from me from Sundance so I’ve been curious to check it out! I LOVE all 3 actors, curious to see how Pine fares in this one especially. “…there is such a satisfying effectiveness to the slowness.” That’s cool, sometimes the slow pace can work in a film’s favor, not always but it’s nice when it does!
Pine is really good. This is a time where he didn’t come across as acting for the camera. Does that make sense?
Robbie may be the biggest surprise for me. She is sooo good here. Not playing on her looks at all.
Big big fan of this movie.
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I’ve been reasonably excited to see this movie for some time now and your review only gets me more excited. Great stuff!
It’s good stuff. And talk about three actors givings super solid performances. I’m hoping more people go out and see this. It deserves an audience.
I can’t wait to see this. The casting alone is so huge while remaining minimalist. The concept and backdrop fascinates me instantly. Now to see how it all comes together! You make it sound great man, thanks for getting me more amped about it! 🙂
No problem. It’s worth getting excited about. It is such a vastly different movie that sucks you in on a human level. Big fan!
I think I remember reading the book of this as a teenager and liking it. Need to check it out.
It’s really, really good.I was interested a while back after seeing the first trailer. I gotta admit, it still surprised me. Even better than I expected.
Sounds really good! I’m gonna keep an eye out for this one 🙂
Kim, its a really good slow burning drama. Definitely check it out. It would make a good “Z” movie! 😉
Haha! But it’d have to land on Netflix first 😉 Stupid place here never gets these movies (or its French dubbed) unless its in the farther theater with crappy show times.
True. And it may be a bit before it hits Netflix
Yeah, and I’m in Canada so its usually a longer wait.
You officially have me interested. Looks like this one is on demand now, I’m gonna watch it when I get the chance. That’s two reviews now I’ve read – I’d never heard of it before that!
It really is good. Three rock solid performances and a fabulous slow-burning story.
This one caught my eye a few days ago. Now that you rate it so highly, I’ll have to bump it up my list. Sounds great and definitely my kinda deal.
Really strong film. Some people have struggled with the ending but I thought it landed on a perfect note. I would be anxious to hear what you think of it.
Like yourself, I’m not Pine’s biggest fan but Ejiofor is always worth the effort. Hope to catch it soon.
Robbie was maybe the biggest surprise. I didn’t take her serious before hit she is really good here.
I’m not that familiar with her work but I thought she was really good in Wolf Of Wall St.
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