Z FOR ZACHARIAH
You feel like Z for Zachariah started out as wanting to appeal to the 2010s fad for Young Adult films Twilight, The Hunger Games, Divergent et al with a plot involving a young woman in her late teens/early twenties taking on the world and crucially in the addition of a love triangle of sorts. That is not quite what Z for Zachariah ends up being as the director seems to have a more adult focus the emotional triangle is a good deal more complex and ambiguous than you usually get in the simplified storytelling that the YA genre operates on, for instance.
Z for Zachariah is a slow laidback film. It operates fairly much like a Coming of Age story. I started to have a problem with the films sympathies the lead girl identifies with the quiet, laidback rural lifestyle where the film seems to associate this kind of pastoral innocence with church-going, a point-of-view that tends to associate with a sheltered life that does not cope with pluralism or less than black-and-white solutions. It feels hard watching the film trying to decide if it is making a nostalgic appeal for those who believe in the country life and church-going or is creating this as a contrast to be expanded/shattered. The sad news is that you reach the end of the film not knowing the answer either.
Z for Zachariah starts to become interesting once we meet Chiwetel Eijofor and he begins his grand scheme of transforming the valley. Here the film starts to touch on the survivalist fantasy that is the essence of all good post-holocaust stories. The main problem once the film starts down this path is that this is not the story that it seems interested in telling. Over and above the book, which only takes place between two characters and contrasts their ideologies, the film has added a third person (Chris Pine) in order to create a love triangle. In effect, the story now becomes the same sort of interracial love triangle in the ruins that we saw in The World, The Flesh and the Devil (1958) and The Quiet Earth (1985). This triangle becomes the films primary concern in fact, you could fairly much write out any science-fiction elements and tell the story in a mundane setting. For that matter, even the clash between Anns rural pastoralism vs Johns industrialism, seems much more muted it is not what you would automatically choose as being the major theme of the film whereas the book extends the story a great deal further and has the two in conflict and outright warfare. The greatest frustration of the film though is the way it [PLOT SPOILERS] solves (or fails to solve) the triangle, reaching an irresolute ending that simply leaves everybody annoyed going huh as to Chris Pines fate.
A film with such a small cast and relatively contained dramatics usually ends up being an actors field day. Australian-born Margot Robbie has been on the rise as a sensationally hot actress in the last couple of years in films like The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Focus (2015) and as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad (2016). By contrast, she goes to the opposite extreme here and her looks are made down to appear as an average girl to do some serious (as opposed to glamour) acting. Opposite her is Chiwetel Ejiofor who has become an increasingly underrated actor with everything he does since I first noticed him in Dirty Pretty Things (2002). Even Chris Pine starts to do some reasonable acting when he turns up. You certainly cannot fault the film on the acting front; it is just the abandonment and blatant rewriting of much of the book and then the fade-out to a non-ending kills much of the potential it had.