Sundance Review: “Z For Zachariah” Is Depressing and Predictable
Title: Z for Zachariah
Director: Craig Zobel
Screenwriter: Nissar Modi
Principle Cast: Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Chris Pine
The post-apocalyptic genre is currently booming. Human beings have always had a morbid fascination with our own destruction. Normally this means that we have zombies or some other monster that is trying to kill us, but sometimes we take a different route. There are times we take the route that the world has ended and now we need to figure out how to live in it again. I liked the idea behind Z for Zachariah when I read the summary despite the fact that it sounded very generic. If there is one thing I can usually count on for Sundance movies, it is that they take stale concepts and turn them into something interesting.
Z for Zachariah is predictable, slow, and can be reviewed with the “Why not both?” internet meme.
We begin in a world that has been killed by some sort of unnamed event that caused nuclear fallout. However, the valley where Ann (Margot Robbie) lives is spared for some reason. Ann lives alone as she works her farm and tries to get by the best that she can. One day she is out hunting and she runs into John (Chiwetel Eijofor). She saves him from radiation sickness they begin a relationship. John wants to tear down the chapel and use the wood at a waterfall to build a wheel to generate power but Ann is hesitant. They eventually meet Caleb (Chris Pine) who begins to complicate things between Ann, John, and their continued survival.
I spoke to someone else in line after the movie about Z for Zachariah because there was a two hour wait to get into the industry screening and that is just crazy. He said he was a writer but he didn’t see the ending of the movie coming at all. I, however, spent the entire movie waiting for something interesting to finally happen and it never came. I don’t expect every movie I see to have some sort of crazy action scene or something but there just isn’t anything there. The only conflict becomes who Ann will decide to sleep with in this group of three people. This is where the internet meme comes into play because I kept thinking that there really wasn’t any reason these three people couldn’t work something out. It wouldn’t have been fair to anyone if there was one couple and another left out and John was a man of science before the world ended. I thought he, of all people, would have seen the logic in it, yet it’s never even brought up.
The fact that John does not believe in God and Ann does comes up a lot though. The main conflict of the movie comes to whether or not they will tear down the chapel to build the wheel. I can understand that Ann apparently has some sentimental attachment to it since her father built it, but this isn’t the same world that she grew up in. Ann even goes off on a long story about the previous winter after her generator went out and how she nearly starved because she was unable to store any food. I wanted to throw my hands up in the air and scream at the movie that I did not understand how this woman had survived this long if she wasn’t willing to sacrifice anything. When Caleb shows up, he is a believer as well and it becomes a point of conflict between the three of them. I was expecting it to be a little more overt but the movie managed to avoid completely bulldozing science in the name of faith or vice versa.
There isn’t much going on in the end. There is some brief mention about repopulating the world but no one else seems to be thinking that hard about it. I had a hard time wrapping my head around the logic of the love triangle because they need as many people as possible to survive. The fact that John is so against Caleb annoyed me a lot more than I thought it would. I want to get annoyed about it more but I guess I can just chalk it up to lazy screenwriting. Anyone who takes five minutes and thinks about this plot could figure out where it was going. I kept waiting for it to wow me and it never happened. Maybe if someone goes into the movie not expecting anything special they won’t be as let down as I was. It’s well shot, if nothing else, and director Craig Zobel does a great job of showing how expansive and alone Ann and her men really are. Aside from making everything look pretty I can’t say much more that enamored the movie to me.
The main cast is mostly running on auto pilot. Margot Robbie might have been a commanding presence in The Wolf of Wall Street but she isn’t the most convincing person here. I like the fact that Ann takes care of herself and can carry her own weight, but as soon as the men show up she seems to change completely. I almost wanted her to pick neither of them, or both, because she is an awesome lady who doesn’t need a man to get by. Then again, they literally gave her the last name Burden so that should tell you what the writer thinks about women. Also if that is the accent she plans on using for Harley Quinn in the Suicide Squad movie we’re in trouble. Chiwetal Ejiofor is probably the best out of the three cast members and also gets one of the best one liners in the entire movie. He’s also the character that probably makes the most sense and almost makes himself the better man by telling Ann that he is okay with her taking the time to choose. However, he falls victim to the same tired jealousy trope in the end, which made me sad for his character. Chris Pine doesn’t show up until a good ways into the movie and he is mostly there to throw a wrench into John and Ann’s relationship. He’s a pretty face that shares Ann’s faith and that’s really all he’s there to do.
Z for Zachariah might be trying to make a point about romance between the last members of the human race but it fumbles the execution poorly enough that it just ends up being dull and predictable.