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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Z for Zacharia

A for Average.

And, um, ignore the byline, the review up at Channel 24 is actually by me, not Gabi. 

What's it about

After a cataclysmic event wipes out humanity, a young woman and two men try to pick up the pieces of a fallen world as the last known survivors. It's not long, however, before tensions mount and complicated romances build.

What we thought

Named after the last of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, Z for Zachariah is an intriguing mix of religion, romance and visions of humanity's end, played out first as an uneasy domestic drama before turning into a PG-13 psycho-sexual thriller. It would be nice to say that it all works but, sadly, for all of its ambitions, it never really comes together.

I haven't read the Robert O'Brien novel on which it is based, but it does seem like the chief flaw of the film is that it makes a rather strange departure from its source in what must be some sort of bid for fans of YA dystopian fiction and gooey vampire novels.

Specifically, Caleb, the character played by Chris Pine, does not appear in the book, which is a two-hander between Margot Robbie's Ann Burden and Chiwetel Ejiofor's John Loomis. He appears quite late in the story and, however much I usually like Chris Pine, his character both distracts from the central relationship, which is apparently quite a bit more complicated and nastier in the novel, and moves the film in a very unwelcome direction.

It's a pity because before that, Z or Zacharia is a decidedly bleak but unquestionably intriguing tale of the last would-be-couple on earth: a naive farm girl and a much more circumspect alleged scientist. Robbie and Ejiorfor are both excellent in their roles, with the latter, in particular, bringing a real unnerving energy to a character that becomes increasingly hard to trust - however much we may want to.

It's very much a slow-burn of a movie but the character dynamics are compelling and its look at Christian faith in the wake of the apocalypse is fascinating that may at times feel a little derivative but, considering how old the novel is, that's pretty easily forgivable. What's less forgivable is that the arrival of the handsome, mysterious but rather bland Caleb causes the film to abandon its less commercial but more intelligent and subtle tone for something more on-the-nose. It's a fatal move that isn't even saved by the sheer guts of its misanthropic and nihilistic denouement

Though, of course, at this point, I for one am really kind of in the market for a vision of our future that is a bit less grim.

Ultimately, Z for Zacharia isn't a bad film by any means, as it is undoubtedly well-acted, nicely shot and solidly mounted by indie director, Craig Zobel, but it is a disappointing one that never quite matches its ambitious vision and nicely written characters with a strong narrative throughline.

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