Some post apocalyptic tales are big and action packed like Mad Max: Fury Road. Others are small and quiet like Z For Zachariah. But one thing that all movies in this subgenre tend to share is an unrelentingly pessimistic view of humanity. If nothing else, the latest film by deeply underrated director Craig Zobel sure serves up plenty of pessimism and then some. It’s undeniably a tiny little film with little in the way of spectacle, but at the same time Z For Zachariah is sure to burrow under the skin and unsettle like few movies you’ll see this year
Freely adapted from Robert C. O’Brien’s 1974 novel of the same name, Zobel’s film stars Margot Robbie as a young woman who may well be the last alive on earth. We’re introduced to her covered in protective clothing heading to an abandoned town searching for books and supplies. An unnamed catastrophe has claimed most life on the planet and left the rest under a cloud of radiation. Somehow Robbie lives in a patch of land that avoided the disaster. She believes its all a result her stringent faith, but she’s about to have that questioned.
While seeking supplies one day, she finds Chiwetel Ejiofor’s scientist wandering through her community. After living in bunker for years, Ejiofor emerged in a radiation suit hoping to find some semblance of society. He’s shocked to discover Robbie and she welcomes him in. They form a friendly, if tentative partnership. Robbie’s open heart and faith doesn’t exactly mesh with Ejiofor’s cynicism and scepticism. Yet, they quickly become friends and sexual tension rears his head, even though Ejiofor puts it off as part of his paranoia. Then into this strange little unit wanders Chris Pine’s bearded country boy and the tensions the film toyed with before heat up further.
Zobel takes his time teasing out the movie. Along with his brilliant cinematographer Tim Orr, he establishes the off-kilter tone immediately. The images are beautiful and yet something feels wrong. The pregnant pauses in the dialogue always leave a tension hanging in the air and given how few characters are on screen at any given time, it’s remarkable how complicated and troubled the relationships become immediately. The central trio are all ideally cast and give skilful performances. Robbie finds an intriguing balance between doe-eyed innocence and a wearily wise temperament. Ejiofor plays a character clearly scarred and troubled with such warmth and empathy that he’s impossible to hate even in his darkest moments. Meanwhile Pine plays a hunky fantasy figure with an undercurrent of menace flavoring everything he says that makes him impossible to pin down.
Despite the minimal locations and players, it’s remarkable how much ground the film covers. Zobel explores the value of faith with a sceptical eye and plunges into the depths of dependable human darkness. Even in this seeming Eden populated by what could be the last living people, the film revels in our fallibility. Jealously, anger, betrayal, loneliness, pain, and seemingly every other unfortunate human impulse comes into play. Yet the film and the actors never lose their empathy for the central characters. It all builds to somewhat vague punchline that will enthral some and infuriate others, but even if you don’t feel like the filmmakers stick the landing, there’s no denying the power of the piece.
Technical Specs and Special Features
The film debuts on Blu-ray with at least a pleasing technical package. Tim Orr’s wonderful cinematography is beautifully represented. At times the look is rough and tumble with deliberate lens flairs and other imperfections that’ll drive HD purists nuts. But for those who respect the occasionally grimy intent of the filmmakers, it’s a stunning disc with a quietly moving surround soundtrack. Extras are sadly slim. There’s a 11-minute EPK featurette that barely scratches the surface of discussing the film’s meaning and production, 6 minutes of ho-hum deleted scenes, and some extended interviews with the cast and Zobel taken straight from the EPK. A commentary from the director would have been nice, but at least the film makes the disc worthwhile alone.