Set against a familiar post-apocalyptic backdrop, Z for Zachariah is an adaptation of the Robert C. O’Brien novel of the same name that focuses on one Ann (Margot Robbie) as her idyllic mountainside abode is happened upon by former research engineer John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor), of whom is promptly stricken with radiation sickness. As Ann nurses John back to health, the bond that forms between them remains decidedly uncomplicated as they live their new lives codependent on each other’s company and support. When a third party enters the picture however, Ann and John’s day-to-day rhythm is upended as jealousy rears its ugly head.
Much like this year’s Maggie, Z for Zachariah is a decidedly plodding, moreover melancholic slice of genre fare that emphasizes human relationships over large-scale cataclysm. In remaining appealingly insular by way of world building, the narrative does its job to procure investment yet it begins to wane given a discernible lack of situational insight. While Ann and John become predictably fond of one another given their being sole survivors and members of the opposite sex, not much is offered in the realm of multifaceted conflict, thematic heft or even general intelligence.
Once Caleb (Chris Pine) arrives, the lone conflictual impetus going forward is a silly sort of “You snooze, you lose,” bit regarding Loomis’ decision to not consummate his and Ann’s relationship when the opportunity presented itself. The ensuing love triangle, although serviceable, remains frustratingly low-key and childish in scope as requisite sob stories are exchanged over meals and sexual tension builds in a foreseeable fashion. It’s a serviceable enough device but feels forced and inconsequential given its midpoint placement along an already mundane timeline.
It earns points for the strength of its central performances and existence as another decidedly small-scale slice of fallout cinema, however Z for Zachariah is little more than a pseudo-lyrical illustration of base-level conflict. I’m even inclined to say that the apocalypse itself is merely a hyperbolic means of emphasizing the flaccid aforementioned love triangle, what with no one and nothing present to stop any of these key players from getting precisely what they want. Although admirably realized and singular enough to separate it from the pack, Z for Zachariah doesn’t amount to much throughout what some may deem a mere melancholic slog.