Note: This is a reprint of my review from the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Z for Zachariah opens August 28.
The post-apocalyptic genre is a pretty popular one. People are intrigued with the ultimate questions: What will happen to us in the future? Will we see humanity’s end? If so, how? And interestingly enough, this genre has answered these questions in a several different ways, in several different stories. Zombies and autocratic governments usually take front and center, so it’s a bit refreshing when directors like Craig Zobel, who is no stranger to the Sundance Film Festival, breathes fresh air into this genre by choosing to focus on our humanity, our instincts, emotions, and personal relationships in the midst of possibly being the last people on Earth in Z for Zachariah.
Anne (Margot Robbie) lives alone, in a large valley stretching for miles. Everyone else around her has died or disappeared, the environment in the neighboring towns radioactive, and a radioactive suit required to get in and out of town. With no one but her dog, Anne works the farm the way her father taught her to and plays the organ at the small church he used to be a pastor of for who knows how long alone.
On an average day while hunting, Anne happens upon another human being, a man named John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor), whom she nurses back to health after he accidentally encounters radioactive waters and gets sick. Anne trustingly allows him into her life and they begin to make plans for a future together. They obviously begin caring for each other, and the two are more hopeful now that they have each other. However, the arrival of a stranger named Caleb (Chris Pine), who seems to have more in common with Anne initially, complicates their relationship and really reveals things within each of them that they would have otherwise ignored.
Chiwetel Ejiofor is fantastic as always, his ability to be so expressive with his eyes is always impressive and wonderful to behold. He gives Loomis depth and you’re torn between feeling different things about him. And Chris Pine, who we’re used to seeing in more ensemble casts, seems to be branching out and flexing more of his dramatic acting chops, his character being the least developed and therefore the most unpredictable, which gives his character more room to be questionable. The three of them make for a great cat and while they have onscreen chemistry, there’s also an underlying tension between their characters.