Monday 3 July 2017

Movie Review: Z For Zachariah (2015)

A post-apocalyptic drama, Z For Zachariah explores the quiet dynamics between three survivors.

An unspecified event has wiped out most of humanity from the face of the earth. Somewhere in the southern United States, Ann Burden (Margot Robbie), a resilient young woman, survives on her own in a small lush valley mysteriously spared from the ravages of radiation. One day she stumbles upon fellow survivor John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and nurses him back to health. John helps Ann with her farming efforts, and develops a plan to generate hydroelectric power from a contaminated waterfall.

Ann was brought up in a deeply religious household while John is more of a non-believer, but they get along and grow close. Their domestic bliss is disrupted when Caleb (Chris Pine), another survivor, walks into their valley. Ann is welcoming, John is suspicious, and gradually sexual tension develops within the triangle of survivors.

Directed by Craig Zobel and written by Nissar Modi as an adaptation of a book by Robert C. O'Brien, Z For Zachariah contains plenty of food for thought. The idea of a small pocket of land remaining untouched while the rest of the landscape is devastated by radiation is an intriguing premise, while the tentative rebuilding of societal relationships between a few people who may be partially carrying the burden of repopulating Earth is rich with possibilities.

Zobel builds the story up slowly, introducing each of the three characters in turn, and only upon their entry into the green valley. Ann is initially the only resident, then she finds John and helps him survive, and then their tiny society is interrupted by Caleb. The communal tensions are reset with every new arrival, as the backdrop of devastation starts to take a backseat to the complications of one becoming two and then three.

Even in a group this small, familiar disruptive issues quickly emerge, including the clash between religion and science, as well as racism, sex and jealousy. John's plan to build a power plant would mean dismantling the small church that holds special meaning for Ann. Caleb and Ann are the same race and maybe closer in age; when they start to get close, John feels emotionally abandoned.

This familiarity of themes also weakens the film's final act. Caleb's introduction tilts the film towards domestic drama with less emphasis on the setting and more focus on the well-worn narrative of envy within triangular tensions.

Margot Robbie remains at the centre of the film throughout, and her accomplished performance holds the drama together during both the survival and emotional scenes. Ejiofor and Pine have less to do but provide able support.

Z For Zachariah creates a new small garden of Eden on a destroyed planet, but not surprisingly, given a chance at a new start the human tendency for mischief and mistrust stays the same.

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