When one hears the term “post-apocalyptic,” zombies may be the first thing to come to mind, whether that be “The Walking Dead,” “Night of the Living Dead,” or “Shaun of the Dead.”
“Z for Zachariah” presupposes that maybe humans can also be monsters, who can act out of pure desperation in order to survive.
Following a nuclear war that wiped out most of mankind, one small town nestled between some mountains is spared. That one town is in tatters and the sky always looks black. It looks like the dying coal mining towns you will drive through in Western Pennsylvania.
Rather than focus on the outside world, the film from Craig Zobel (“Compliance”), based on the novel of the same name, is a stripped down look at the future that surprisingly gets a lot of mileage out of the premise of three people stuck in a house together.
The first survivor we meet is the young Ann (Margot Robbie) who has learned how to be self-sufficient since the end of the world took the rest of her family away. Isolated from people, her dog is her best friend, as it should be. Ann has a strong sense of faith that seems to always keep her looking on the bright side.
But she isn’t alone for long.
One day, she runs into a man named Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Given that they may be the last two people left on earth, they fall in love. This love is formed out of necessity rather than passion, and so they decide to take things slowly.
Things get a little more complicated for Loomis after Caleb (Chris Pine), a man who happens to have a very biblical sounding name, comes into the picture. He is a slightly better match for Ann. They both grew up near each other before the apocalypse, and he is fittingly much more accepting and understanding of her religious ways.
When watching “Z for Zachariah,” strangely the first thing to come to mind is Fox’s “The Last Man on Earth,” which is basically the comedic version of this same story. I might be more inclined to recommend the comedic version of the concept “I wouldn’t sleep with you if you were the last man on earth,” but “Z for Zachariah” has a few new things to add to this well-explored territory. Plus, the apocalyptic world outside the house provides some nice stakes for the love triangle to come.
It may be surprising that the biggest basis of comparison here is a sitcom as opposed to something like 2009’s “The Road” which follows a man and his son after the collapse of civilisation, but “Z for Zachariah” takes the approach that it could be more interesting to focus on the characters instead of a built-up futuristic world. Yet, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some interesting worldbuilding here.
This is a world surrounded by danger and toxic waste. It is a world surrounded by mountains, rivers, and waterfalls contrasted by abandoned schools. This is a planet on its last legs that is ultimately very beautiful. At the same time, a dip in a babbling brook can potentially turn you radioactive.
All of the actors have great chemistry with each other. There are only three actors in this entire film so if they didn’t, then that would have been a disaster. This shines through during the more dramatic scenes as well as some lighter ones, such as a particularly funny drunken shopping spree at a supermarket.
While “Z for Zachariah” might look somewhat familiar, it makes you think about the end of the world in a way that a lot of apocalyptic films do not. For example, they put extra emphasis on the fact that characters have to refer to friends, family members, and other elements of their past lives with a “was” instead of an “is.” There is something subtly tragic about that. “Z for Zachariah” doesn’t really ask how we will save the world after it ends. It simply shows what will be lost, and that no matter how many people are left, we will always simply be searching for love and connection.
“Z for Zachariah” will be in theatres on August 28.
Check out the trailer below:
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