The end of the world doesn’t always come with a bang and large amounts of carnage. The aftermath isn’t always a dystopian society run by tweens or a Mad Maxian style anarchist society that worships water. Sometimes the end of the world happens and everything that follows is just a whimper.
Z for Zachariah doesn’t focus on the over-dramatics associated with post-apocalyptic films. In it’s beautiful, natural landscapes it shows how three people are serendipitously united in one of the few areas in the world that is not irradiated. The pacing is so steady and consistent that you can almost not fault it. ‘Almost’ being the key word. There are moments where the story and even sound design makes you think the film is going to take a suspenseful thriller pace, but after the sound cues subside we are back where we started. Each has their own views on the direction they’d like their future to take and who they want to be part of it.
Director of Compliance Craig Zobel brings this humble, ponderous journey into a post-apocalyptic society to life. As in Compliance, it is brimming with an analysis of human nature except this one is heightened by an equally compelling natural landscape. Both looks are visually striking, but seeing how these three survivors interact feels all too real. Isolation has affected each person in a different and profound way, testing their faith, their sanity and their humanity. When they come together, you can easily identify each person’s priorities and the lengths they are willing to take to achieve them. Ann is less concerned with surviving, but more concerned with actually living and companionship in someone other than her dog. Loomis takes a more clinical approach, just trying to survive long enough to start rebuilding society. Aside from being close to death from radiation exposure and nearing the end of his sanity, he was also starved for human interactions, and it didn’t hurt that she was the opposite sex. Caleb is an unknown force who really only seems to care about his own survival, even if it means being manipulative and deceiving. Their interactions transcend their dire situation and show just how human and petty we can be after the end of the world. There are no monsters or aliens or even some supernatural villain. The film doesn’t need it because just as good as humanity can be, they can be just as bad, and that is terrifying enough.
There is no big cast in this minimalist production, but together, the three actors prove more than enough to bring this film about mass extinction to life. Each star embodies their character expertly, even in their mannerisms. Ejiofor and Pine were great, but it was Robbie’s performance that anchored the entire film. She is able to bring a serene quality to her character that helps mirror the tranquility of the film’s tone. Her sense of hope and generally cheerful disposition are what keep this film from dragging us down with its bleakness.
Great interactions and performances are only a few of the outer joys in Z for Zachariah, but the deeper symbolism is and added pleasure in this film. Like how a hallowed structure (the church) has become a hollow beacon of hope in a world where everything seems hopeless. It’s much less about the religious belief behind it and much more about the symbol it represented and the memories it holds. Don’t get me wrong, there are still religious references, like the character of Caleb, whose name corresponds with a biblical figure known as a spy. This is all counterbalanced by the scientific character Loomis, who is the one trying to rebuild society and must begrudgingly suffer Caleb’s presence for his usefulness as a laborer. Loomis knows Caleb’s manipulative nature is a detriment to everything he is building, including the relationship with Ann. Ann is the spiritual center of the group, believing the inherent good in people and believing that everything happens for a reason. Her faith is absolute and she embodies it perfectly, especially when it comes to forgiveness. Even her last name “Burden” signifies the hard responsibility she bears being the last woman in the world (or at least in that general vicinity). Even ‘Zachariah’ means Jehovah remembers, but after seeing this film, Jehovah won’t be the only one that remembers it.
RATING: ★★★★★★★ (7/10 stars)