Based on the posthumous novel by Robert C. O’Brien, Z for Zachariah presents a post apocalyptic world sans zombies or a rubble filled metropolis. Instead, we are introduced to Ann Burden (Margot Robbie), a young woman who lives in a verdant valley sans any family members or friends (they’ve all moved on to greener pastures). With just a loyal dog in tow, Ann farms her land and occasionally travels into town for sustenance, and though she may be the last living person on Earth, she’s determined to survive.
Her solitary existence is thrown for a loop with John Loomis (an unnerved yet always arresting Chiwetel Ejiofor), an understandably paranoid scientist who enters her sphere and accidentally skinny dips in radiation drenched waters. Ann saves and nurses John back to health, and the pair gradually grow a bond which could eventually lead to intimacy (and thus, the continuation of the human race).
Their “Adam and Eve” existence is threatened (or in Ann’s case, expanded) with the discovery of a charming stranger named Caleb (Chris Pine) who inevitably puts a wedge between Ann and Loomis. The oft-used phrase “three’s a crowd” applies to this collection of survivors, and although they team up to build a proper irrigation system that will immensely enhance their sustainability, living in peace may be far out of reach.
Z for Zachariah is a beautifully mounted production, as the wide open and picaresque spaces of New Zealand serves as the perfect backdrop for this intimately told and finely acted drama. Director Craig Zobel (Compliance) doesn’t fashion this universe with zombies, end of the world conflicts or philosophical treatises on humanity. The lack of operatic and thematic fireworks may turn off viewers who were expecting a more action driven, fantastical narrative, but for viewers searching for a nuance rich experience, Z for Zachariah should fit the bill.
Though both Ejiofor and Pine are actors of import, Z for Zachariah is Margot Robbie’s show. This three-hander is actually Ann’s story, as she learns how to navigate and possibly compromise her own values for the greater good. Her love for Loomis, though based on trust and friendship, also exists out of mutual necessity, while her animal attraction to Caleb (whose affections are more forthright than John’s) is also understandable. We see the world through Ann’s prism, and though Robbie stole the show with her colorful work in Focus and The Wolf of Wall Street, she’s also adept at dialing things down. Z for Zachariah proves Robbie can easily lead the show, and it’s safe to assume she’ll be spearheading even more A-list projects.
Huge credit also goes to Zobel for leaving any kind of histrionics or showy visual theatrics at home. Though such end of the world type narratives could easily summon such viscerally thrilling fireworks, Zobel takes an entirely different path. During the story’s final moments, there are still questions that maybe only the viewer can answer, and though this may prove frustrating to some, it’s a creatively courageous move for the filmmaker.
Survival, as well as finding our way in this life, is paramount whether or not it’s the end of the world. Powered by a standout performance by Robbie and solid supporting work from Pine and Ejiofor, Z for Zachariah is first-rate storytelling which, amidst its intricate subtleties, packs a powerful punch.
Z for Zachariah is now playing in select theaters (New York & Los Angeles) and On Demand.
Posted By: Greg Srisavasdi