Sundance 2015 Review: Z for Zachariah

After the truly unsettling Compliance, director Craig Zobel turns his sights to the post-apocalyptic film with Z for Zachariah. Avoiding the clichéd tropes that this label has come to suggest, Zobel has crafted a bold character piece masterfully performed by an outstanding cast.

After a disaster wipes out nearly all of civilisation, Ann Burden (Margot Robbie) and her paradisiacal farmhouse are spared from destruction. The independent Ann's days of living in isolation eventually come to an end upon the arrival of the practical Mr. Loomis (Chiwitel Ejiofor) who gradually begins to bond with the young woman. This relationship is thrown into a sea of disruption upon the arrival of handsome, yet slightly suspect Caleb (Chris Pine).

Instead of relying on the science-fiction or action centred set-pieces that the post-apocalyptic film might imply, Zobel opts for quiet yet consistently impactful character drama instead. Placing delicate yet conventional human emotions like loneliness, dependence, jealousy, and love into this environment results in an engaging character piece with an intrinsic originality and revitalising energy.

Nissar Modi's adaptation of Robert C. O'Brien's novel has a simplicity in its premise which most basically centres upon a love triangle - yet its powerful character development keeps proceedings engaging and consistently gripping. Character motivations are always surprising - with each of the male protagonists suspect and charming in equal measure, particularly as jealousy and betrayal begin to work their way into the established bonds between characters . This is most explicit in the case of Ejiofor's Loomis who takes an immediate dislike to the smooth Caleb who bonds with Ann, despite her previous romantic interest in Loomis. Modi's screenplay is delicate in its presentation of how small dynamics between the characters can threaten the narrative's overall status quo - resulting in a general atmosphere of unsettled tension.

Z for Zachariah excels as both a thematic and visual ride. With a setting that defies the traditional aesthetic of the post-apocalyptic world, cinematographer Tim Orr captures a landscape with a near Eden like paradisiacal beauty. With striking lush green valleys, towering hillsides and picturesque waterfalls - Zobel's film is a masterclass in visual majesty. This vivid landscape gives the film an earthy feeling of regeneration, channelling the religious Genesis-esque connotations of the tale.

Margot Robbie excels as Ann, ever convincing in her portrayal of an independent yet somewhat naive young woman. The actress captivates in this gorgeously written role presenting both an inner strength and warmth alongside a streak of vulnerability and loneliness. Ejiofor impresses as the fragile man saved by the warmth of Robbie's Ann - yet thrown into an angry despair upon the arrival of his new male competition. Pine packs an undeniable charm into the role of Caleb, yet allows a dangerous and suspicious streak to shine through as the handsome source of disruption - particularly as we see him intentionally clash with Loomis.

Z for Zachariah is an outstanding slice of character driven cinema - with gorgeously scripted protagonists, engaging dynamics, and a setting packed with a revitalising originality - it is sure to be a firm highlight of 2015.

Also featured on The People's Movies.
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