Z for Zachariah is an intimate look at the lives of three individuals once the apocalypse hits. There are no zombies in this flick, or desert landscapes or deserted cities. Just a valley, a farm and three people trying to cope with what has happened. It is a vastly different, more intimate take on this post-apocalyptic genre that helps it stand out from the crowd. The plot revolves around the dialogue, which helps us understand who these people are under the surface, and the superb acting from Margo Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Chris Pine adds depth and gravitas to the characters they portray.
Margo Robbie stars as Ann, a young woman in her own little world, tucked into a farmhouse and the valley that her family left behind, who stumbles into John (Ejiofor), a scientist driven nearly driven mad with radiation poisoning and his search for others, whom she helps and invites into her home, no longer alone. A thin, fragile strand of trust bonds them, and this strand grows until a stranger arrives (Caleb, played by Chris Pine), unraveling what they’ve built up between them.
This was a more reserved role for Robbie, where she plays a simple farm girl who believes in God and went to church every Sunday (her father was even a pastor), and her reserved performance makes it the more believable. Her character feels real and worn out, like she’s had a life off screen. Ejiofor does an equally powerful job as this scientist, and the opposite of Robbie’s Ann. Ejiofor, as you could have guessed, is not religious and believes in a more factual existence than faith based. As Robbie prays before every meal, he does not interrupt or ask her why, but simply sits and waits and observes until she’s done.
That is truly the beauty of this film. There are religious undertones throughout, and there is an interesting dichotomy of viewpoints between John and Ann, but the movie never tries to intervene to tell us who is right or wrong. These traits are embedded in the characters, and they simply exist, not to preach to us as the viewers, but to display complex characters who come from different walks of life.
As Ann and John build trust in each other, they run into a stranger who seemingly stumbles into this valley, and I wouldn’t say that the film took a turn for the worst, but I could have done without the character of Caleb being introduced into the plot. This character seemed to be there simply to force a rift into the relationship between John and Ann, and to shake things up.
Caleb prays at the dinner table when Ann does, talks to her about things that seem familiar and gives off this persona of a really sweet, innocent guy, but as a viewer, something simply seems off about him, and it become clear that he is lusting after Ann. This clearly forces John to become jealous since he is falling for her, and a love triangle forms. Pine did a fantastic job at portraying the character of Caleb, but his sole purpose seemed to be to cause conflict between John and Ann, and this seemed like a story telling short cut. The story could have ultimately been written in such a way to show the ups and downs of John and Ann’s relationship without the introduction of Caleb to speed up the process.
Overall, this film was a tense thriller masked as this simple drama. As the film ended and left you as it faded out, this haunting final image leaves the screen yet will stay with you for days to come. It might not be your average ending where everything is resolved and happy, but it was an effective way to leave you speechless. This film was just a peak into their lives, and once it ends their lives will go on while the cameras shut off. Even though Caleb’s character felt like a simple plot element and that’s it, Pine did a great job at bringing what was on the page to life, and all of these characters felt real and authentic.