“Z for Zachariah” is a good looking film built on the simplest sci-fi premise of them all.
Last woman on Earth? Meet the last man. Okay, MEN.
Margot Robbie (TV’s “Pan Am”) is our heroine, a methodical young woman who has survived the radiation disaster on a remote mountaintop farm. She occasionally makes forays into her now-abandoned nearby town. Candy raids, mostly. She has to wear an improvised haz-mat suit to survive those.
Ann hoes her garden, checks her traps, tends her chickens and plays the organ in the chapel her family built on the farm. Her dog is her only companion.
Until the scientist shows up. Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor of “12 Years a Slave”) was in a bunker, underground. He stumbles into her oasis farm, a sickly and somewhat paranoid survivor. He’s more worldly, more educated. As he recovers, he pitches suggestions that help her run the farm and retrieve the technology of a civilization that has ended.
“Planning. Rebuilding.” She likes those ideas. They fit into her theology. Her collection of books is built around a set of Bible reading instruction books — “A is for Adam” — thus, the film’s title, “Z is for Zachariah.”
The film of Robert C. O’Brien’s novel promises to set us up with something profound as the man of science tries to rationalize to the woman of faith the need to start civilization over again. She could be making arguments against science, which brought on their doom, against desecrating the church.
But she’s just glad to have a man around, one who can introduce her to a little more of the world — to love, for instance, and alcohol, the one thing she never bothered scavenging from the abandoned country store.
And then the miner shows up. Chris Pine matches Robbie, drawl-for-drawl. Caleb is obviously a better match for Ann. Loomis, being a scientist, can see that. And “Z for Zachariah” becomes a half-hearted love-triangle tale for the End Times.
New Zealand and West Virginia provide the striking settings, and you can almost see what the cast saw in this as promising and meaty. But the script skips past deeper debates and doesn’t deliver much in the line of fireworks for the love triangle.
While “Z for Zachariah” can be embraced for taking civilization’s collapse out of the hands of zombies, it’s no “Book 0f Eli.” You’d have to go back to a Medieval plague picture, “The Last Valley,” to find a more apt ancestor. And more “apt” doesn’t add up to “better.”
Cast: Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Chris Pine
Credits: Directed by Craig , script by Nissar Modi, based on the Robert C. O’Brien novel . A Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions release.
Running time: 1:35