Sundance 2015: Invigorating Post-Apoc Drama in 'Z for Zachariah'
by Alex Billington
January 25, 2015
A few years ago at Sundance, director Craig Zobel unleashed his film Compliance upon audiences, earning rave reviews and critical responses from those who felt it went too far. Zobel, who has a steady hand and refined vision, returns to Sundance this year with Z for Zachariah, and adaptation of a book that takes place in a very small town with the few remaining people that have survived after a nuclear apocalypse. The central character is Ann, played by the astonishing Margot Robbie (from The Wolf of Wall Street), who ends up in a bit of a love triangle after two different men show up. This invigorating sci-fi is my kind of film.
Zobel is a very economic filmmaker who provides deep insight through carefully crafted dialogue, never wasting any time or even any extra shots on anything that isn't necessary. Z for Zachariah is a gorgeous film, with cinematographer Tim Orr instantly earning a spot on my list of talented DPs to follow. It's the kind of film I could just watch on repeat to admire how perfectly composed every shot is, whether it's a look out through the valley, or a close-up on the eyes of one of the characters. This is important because it's a film that relies so much on the composition to add depth above and beyond the dialogue-driven storytelling.
Speaking of layers, this is a film with many of them, and it warrants repeat viewings to start to peel back more. The story is set in a town nestled nicely in a valley spared from the radiation of a nuclear apocalypse, where a hardworking woman and her dog have established some semblance of a post-apocalyptic life. The first person she finds is an engineer, Loomis played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who initially makes the mistake of jumping into radioactive water getting sick. She nurses him back to health, and they become close friends. Months later another mysterious man, played by Chris Pine, who survived deep in a cave emerges, causing tensions to arise and creating an odd group dynamic that's fascinating to see play out between all of them.
What really impressed by about the film was how intelligent it is, exploring themes of love and friendship and religion and trust. The title, as far as I could tell, is a biblical reference that connects to a scene where we briefly see a book about religion called "A is for Abraham." When further analyzing the story, which does only involve three people, perhaps it's an interesting exploration into the idea of rebirth, starting anew. It asks challenging questions like: how selfish are we really? And: can we be happy if someone else is gaining attention over us? This is just the start, as the more I think about the film, the more I realize what's hidden in every line and every scene. That's why this is one I need to rewatch again already; there's so much to it.
I may be in the minority here, but I enjoy Z for Zachariah more in a cerebral way than I do Compliance. There's more to think about here, more of a story and even more of a backstory to work with. We all know this already, but Chiwetel Ejiofor is so unbelievably outstanding in his role as Loomis, and he's matched by as nuanced and intricate performances from Margot Robbie and Chris Pine. It's a film designed to challenge the audience and their feelings. Zobel has once again shown that he is capable of making some of the most invigoratingly thought-provoking films out there. I'm looking forward to delving even deeper into this one.
Alex's Sundance 2015 Rating: 9 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing