Z for Zachariah, directed by Craig Zobel, is the second film with a small cast that I have watched this year; the other being Ex Machina. The two movies are quite different, but both are very good. I like them equally, but I will concede that Ex Machina is the “better” film.
If you have seen the Z for Zachariah trailer, you know the basic plot: After a nuclear event, Ann Burden (Margot Robbie) thinks she is the last person left on Earth. That is until she spots John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor). John takes a dip in a contaminated watering hole, and Ann nurses him back to health. The two of them start plowing the ground and planting seeds (not a metaphor). Then along comes Caleb (Chris Pine). Is he a good guy? What are his intentions? Watch the film and find out.
Z for Zachariah is based on the novel by Robert C. O’Brien, who also wrote Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. For a film that is based on a young adult novel, Z for Zachariah is not a YA movie. It’s rated PG-13 for “A scene of sexuality, partial nudity, and brief strong language.” The reason for the change is because Ann was sixteen years old in the novel. Yeah. The book was published in 1974–things were way different back then.
Some reviewers decscribe the movie as a thriller. There are some tense moments, but it never reaches the highs of the work of Hitchcock or De Palma. To be fair, it’s not that kind of film. And thankfully, it’s not as overwrought as many of those thrillers from the Nineties.
Nissar Modi’s script isn’t overloaded with exposition or needless dialogue. The three leads say so much with a look; or a look away. Margot Robbie continues to impress me. To be fair, this only the second film I have seen her in; the other being The Wolf of Wall Street. I think her Southern accent in Z for Zachariah was very good. If you wanted to nitpick, you could say it was less of an accent, and more of an impression of Jamie Pressly–either way, it worked.
It is never stated where Z for Zachariah takes place. Wild guess? West Virginia. The film was shot mostly in New Zealand, and the scenery is breathtaking. No matter where director of photography Tim Orr pointed the camera, the view was gorgeous.
Z for Zachariah dealt with Ann’s faith in God by not making a big deal out of it. If this were a faith-based movie, Ann would have spent most of the film trying to convert the atheistic John. Conversely, John is never condescending about Ann’s belief. That was refreshing.
Part of the film’s tension comes when it is revealed that Caleb-from-three-counties-over is also a believer. Another source of tension is race. The subject was only brought up once, and that’s all it needed to be mentioned. Once spoken, it is out in the open. The rest of the time, all you need is subtext and knowing looks. Z for Zachariah dealt with the subject of race far better than those films that beat you over the head with it. That itself is an achievement.