In Craig Zobel’s apocalypse drama Z For Zachariah, we’re asked to believe that one of the last women remaining on Earth is the beautiful Margot Robbie. Dressed down in farm girl attire (i.e. lots of oversized plaid and a John Deere-like hat) and sporting a Southern accent that one only hears in the movies when someone certainly not from the south tries to put on a Southern accent in said movie, she’s just one of several issues facing a film that’s languidly paced and unable to draw any imagination from a genre of film that’s spent its welcome in a very short period of time.
While hunting with her faithful dog on the resplendent patch of farmland she calls home, Ann (Robbie) observes a stranger in a hazmat suit walking in her direction. The clicking of his Geiger counter reveals nothing in the air so the man, named Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofore), sheds his suit and goes for a dip in the cozy stream nearby. Racing to his aid, yelling that the water is not safe and it comes from a source outside of the area, Ann rescues the man and takes him back to her house where she nurses him back to health. It’s the first hint we get of civilization’s imminent end, as some unspecified radioactive fallout has decimated the population. Ann explains that the reason she survived was the seemingly perfect placement of the rolling hills around her land that must have acted like a buffer in allowing the poisonous gas to settle over the property.
Over time, Ann and Loomis grow romantically attached, even though her strict religious background and preacher’s daughter adolescence causes her to take things in stride. As if this cliched characterization isn’t enough, Loomis is an engineer who helps her restore power to the house and raises the idea for building a water-powered windmill that will give them sustainable energy.
However, their idyll existence is shattered when a second man (Chris Pine) wanders into their homestead and destabilizes, both emotionally and physically, their tenuous relationship. As if the beauty of Robbie isn’t enough, apparently one of the last male survivors is ruggedly handsome Pine who, naturally, tests Ann’s monogamy with Loomis. The three slowly evolve into a family of sorts, wondering how to survive while aligning their own personal agendas for the sultry Ann.
Based on the 70’s novel by Robert Conly (who also wrote the wonderful children’s book on which the animated The Secret of Nimh was based upon), Z For Zachariah certainly feels like a film that would’ve prospered in the 70’s. Released now, and coming along the wave of micro-budget apocalypse films of the last decade or so, Zobel’s effort is too mundane and full of narrative twists that are neither surprising nor interesting. There’s no moral complexity within the characters, and even though all three stars have more than enough charisma and acting chops to embody three-dimensional people we care about, I found myself not really caring about any of them. In a film that hinges on these three being the last few survivors on the planet, that’s a major problem.
Z For Zachariah opens in limited release throughout the Dallas Fort Worth area on Friday, August 28.