Z for Zachariah

| October 21, 2015

I tend to really like post-apocalyptic movies, but am worried the concept has gotten a bit worn over the past few years.  Common tropes about humanity declining into monstrous versions of ourselves (literally and figuratively), mistrust, and survival can only be re-imagined so many times before movies start coming out that feel like complete regurgitations of movies that have come before.  While I don’t think Z for Zachariah is the tipping point for post-apocalyptic movies, I did find the movie’s lack of originality to be a bit disappointing.

The story is simple enough.  In the wake of a global nuclear incident (war?), most of life on the planet has been wiped out and most of the planet itself has become uninhabitable due to radioactive fallout.  However, tucked away behind the natural protection of a mountain range, Anne (Margot Robbie; The Wolf of Wall Street) is surviving by raiding a nearby town for supplies and growing her own crops.  Things get a bit easier when she discovers a radiation poisoned stranger (Chiwetel Ejiofor; The Martian) who knows how to harness a local waterfall to give Anne’s house electricity, allowing them to freeze crops and keep them through the winter.  Things get a bit more interesting when another suspicious stranger (Chris Pine; Star Trek) shows up offering to help the others build their water wheel.

The fact that the film has only three characters is a huge plus for me.  I like movies that feel theatrical; it gives them a nice sense of immediacy and heightens the drama.  On top of that, the small cast forces each character to step up and bear the burden of pushing the story forward with good action that is consistently rooted in character.  The three performances are great as well.  I’ve liked Chris Pine in everything I’ve seen him in.  If nothing else, he’s a fun actor with a natural charm and charisma that always comes across.  Having him in this dramatic role is a nice turn, but fits perfectly with the larger than life action movies we’ve seen from him to date.  I haven’t seen Margot Robbie in anything except The Wolf of Wall Street, but seeing how much range she has between that movie and this one makes me really excited to see what she does with the role of Harley Quinn in next year’s Suicide Squad.  I’ve been a fan of Chiwetel Ejiofor since long before I could pronounce his name.  I believe I first saw him as the villain in Joss Whedon’s Serenity, and have kept an eye out for him ever since, loving his performances in romantic comedies, period dramas, and science fiction.  Next, I’m excited to see him join the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a key role in Doctor Strange.

Unfortunately, the strong cast and the interesting premise just aren’t enough to keep my interest the whole way through.  I feel like the movie drags on a bit, slowly moving from plot point to plot point without anything much happening.  The Chris Pine character is introduced quite late in the story, and by then the questions his presence raises in the movie aren’t as interesting to me as they maybe would have been if he’d been a presence throughout.  I do find the religious imagery and parallels fascinating to a degree, but the film relies on them a bit too heavily and they don’t pay off in any significant way until the end, which is quite good.

Available now on Blu-ray and DVD from Lionsgate.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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