z_for_zachariah_2Year: 2015
Director: Craig Zobel
Writer(s): Craig Zobel, Robert C. O’Brien
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: PG-13
Digital, Color, 95 mins

Synopsis: In the wake of a disaster that wipes out most of civilization, two men and a young woman find themselves in an emotionally charged love triangle as the last known survivors. (Source)

As more and more sci-fi stories continue to get lost amidst an endless barrage of CGI, gadgets and flashy flights of fancy, Z for Zachariah is a nice throwback that reminds us of what the genre does best – explore our humanity, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. Using a slightly futuristic premise to set the stage, the film is really just an intimate drama about who we are when displaced from the social norms and rules that dictate our everyday lives. What happens when we’re left with nothing but only our will to survive? Director Craig Zobel gets the most out of his actors in a complex morality tale that plays out like the best kind Twilight Zone episode, understated, but packed to the brim with huge philosophical implications. 

An unspecified time after a radioactive disaster has left virtually the entire world uninhabitable, a lone woman named Ann (Margot Robbie) lives in an uncontaminated valley, tilling the land with only a dog and her faith to keep her company. As far as she knows, she’s the last woman on earth, not having been into contact with any other humans for quite some time. That all changes one day when she discovers a scientist named Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who wanders onto her land. Thinking he’s found a respite from the wasteland, he takes a dip in the valley’s one contaminated lake. Anne saves him, nurses him back to health and the two quickly share a bond through their survival. Their platonic arrangement is quickly tested with the surprise arrival of a third, named Caleb (Chris Pine), a mysterious man who shares Ann’s faith. Suddenly, tensions rise as the trio attempt to sustain a community of three.

Certainly the story’s budding love triangle is at the center of the film’s minimalist plot, but what drives it is a volatile, primal mix of faith, science and morality. Using Ann’s fierce faith and Loomis’ scientific background as an abstract form of social politics, Zobel’s film thrives in the way he continually puts his characters into situations where there aren’t any easy answers or simple compromises. With humanity down to literally three people, it’s fascinating to watch there equally intelligent characters struggle to maintain their personal integrity and the way it subconsciously correlates to survival for as long as possible. On a very abstract level, it’s an amplified version of our daily lives, but stripped bare without any distractions. As these three characters learn more about each other, the more the film crystalizes both the good and bad inherent in all of us, and how the idea of love or companionship can suddenly blind reason and logic in an instant.

z_for_zachariah_3As the only three performers in the film, each actor brings their all with nuance and complexity. Margot Robbie is definitely the film’s heart, evoking its innocence, with a sincere character who truly believes in yet struggles with her faith. There’s a magnetism to her that pulls us in when she’s completely alone, and it’s incredible to see the way she works around her co-stars and the story’s tricky situations. Chiwetel Ejiofor is the best type of counterpart for Robbie, a spiritual inverse who plays logical and calculated as much as can be expected for a character in his position. As usual, he’s capable of both confidence and vulnerability and there’s something comforting about his presence. Chris Pine plays a little to type as the wildcard Caleb, and it suits him, but he also gets to show off a lot of depth as well. The best thing that Zobel does is give these three characters equal footing, making sure not to judge them or steer us too much in a certain direction, and it’s a testament to these actors they’re able to pull us in different directions with their layered performances.

Z for Zachariah is thinking man’s science fiction at it’s best, accessible yet with a humanity that remains the film’s focus at all times. As these characters rebuild their future, what does it mean for their humanity? Zobel’s film is an emotional, thought provoking portrait of life at the end of the world, a conversation piece about what it is we truly need to survive. If you’ve been looking for meaningful sci-fi, this is a film that deserves your attention, one that is a haunting mirror of humanity and a thrilling survival tale all the same.

SG