Imagine there’s been a global catastrophe and, for all you know, you’re the last human alive. You’re lucky enough to already live in a comfy farmhouse in a bucolic area of the South that magically didn’t get hit with radiation like the rest of the world. You have a dog to keep you from getting too lonely, and there’s food growing on your land.
Then you happen upon a well-meaning—and handsome—stranger. You care for him after he bathes in contaminated waters (though maybe you could have saved him some grief had you yelled “It’s contaminated!” rather than just “Get out of there!” while holding your rifle).
You get to know one another and fall into a routine, and maybe a little in love. And then—butter your biscuit!—another stranger shows up. He’s really good-looking and likes you, too.
That is entirely what Z for Zachariah is all about. It’s based on a young adult novel, but the book has only two characters and is a story about danger, not love. So director Craig Zobel (Compliance) and screenwriter Nissar Modi essentially stripped The Hunger Games from that eponymous YA series and cobbled together a pared-down Twilight.
Margot Robbie is Ann, the young woman who was doing relatively OK by herself but welcomes the company of Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor). He’s a scientist, which is convenient, because he built the hazmat suit that helped him survive and knows other handy tricks, like tapping the nearby waterfall for hydroelectric power.
Because the film doesn’t explain what’s happened to the rest of humanity and there’s nothing at stake but broken hearts once Caleb (Chris Pine) wanders onto the farm, the cast must play along with many stretched-out, nonsensical scenes: Loomis acting like a child when Ann doesn’t read his mind; Ann suddenly throwing herself at him while he holds back; Ann not understanding… anything, really. Robbie is a natural playing the naïve, accented farmgirl, but that doesn’t make her character any less irritating. You may find yourself wondering why Loomis whispers when they’re talking about their impending couplehood—before Caleb arrives. Might the dog overhear?
Unsurprisingly, Z for Zachariah feels leisurely, even at just 95 minutes. With the exception of not having electricity, Ann’s set up a normal life, and watching normality without risk or realistic tension—or even a backstory—is a bore. Zobel’s Compliance was ultimately unrealistic, too, but its story was gripping even as it got ridiculous. This film is ridiculous from the start. If you’re looking for a childish love triangle amidst dystopia—rather, alleged dystopia—I have a couple of trilogies to recommend.
Z for Zachariah opens Friday at Angelika Pop-Up.