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Home Blog Popcorn Parent Movie Reviews Family Movie Review: Z for Zachariah (PG-13)

Family Movie Review: Z for Zachariah (PG-13)

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MPAA Rating: PG-13       Length: 98 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 14+. The film is about a love triangle that develops between three survivors of a nuclear disaster, so there is some kissing, a sex scene (a shirtless man and a clothed woman), some swimming in underwear and implied nudity (you see a woman in her underwear from the back while bathing; you see a woman sitting on a toilet while clothed), some cursing, a few different drunk scenes, including one where a man first makes a pass at a woman and then becomes physical with her, the description of various off-screen murders and violent interactions, and some vomiting.

Nobody seems to be telling the full truth in ‘Z for Zachariah,’ and that moody unpredictability serves the film well at first. But when it swings fully into love-triangle mode is when the film loses its way.

By Roxana Hadadi

There are post-apocalyptic love triangles like the one in “The Hunger Games” film series, with teenagers consumed with passion and hormones, and then there are ones like “Z for Zachariah,” with mostly responsible, somewhat truthful adults trying to shoulder the responsibility of rebuilding society and, perhaps, repopulating the earth. That may sound less exciting than Katniss’s choice between Peeta and Gale, but “Z for Zachariah” starts out rivetingly moody – until the obviousness of love-triangle mechanics derails its success.

Loosely based on the same-named novel by Robert C. O’Brien, the film focuses on young woman Ann (Margot Robbie, of “About Time”), who has survived a nuclear disaster that has seemingly wiped out the rest of the world. Although accompanied by her devoted dog, Ann is profoundly lonely; her family farm provides all the food she needs and she knows how to hunt, but the lack of electricity will be a problem as winter approaches. And radiation poisoning, during her trips into town for more books and supplies, is always a threat.

Shockingly and unexpectedly, she one day sees another person: Scientist John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor, of “12 Years a Slave”), who collapses with joy and tears at the area’s clean air but unknowingly jumps into a polluted waterfall. Feeling responsible for his illness, Ann takes him home and nurses him back to health. After Ann prays for him to get better, Loomis does, and the two begin an uneasy partnership with an uneven power dynamic (he knows how to fix the farm’s broken machinery, but only she knows how to run it), differing religious beliefs (her sheltered and naïve personality comes partly from her devout Christianity), and tangible sexual tension. “Maybe we store enough food for more than just us,” he suggests, and the possibility of starting a life together – and perhaps being forced to, as the last people alive – is simultaneously alluring and terrifying.

And things only get more complicated in the form of Caleb (Chris Pine, of “Into the Woods”), a survivor from the area who has more in common with Ann – same faith, even the same accent – than Loomis. With a plan to get electricity back to the farm that pits their beliefs against each other, drama between the three of them grows – as do attraction between Caleb and Ann and competition between Caleb and Loomis. “He could be anybody, for all we know,” says Loomis, but what “Z for Zachariah” does so well at first is spreading that doubt and unreliability among everyone.

Practically no one here can be trusted fully: Loomis watches Ann through a gun’s scopes, and we don’t know with what intent; Ann and Loomis each get drunk and try to seduce each other, only to alternately be rejected; Caleb jokes about wagering Ann in a bet with Loomis, and the looks he gives both of them are loaded with contrasting emotion; when Caleb and Ann begin spending time together, Loomis sneers, “You all be white people together.” Everyone is hiding something or subverting something, both knowingly and unknowingly, and those layers of intention are dizzying and frightening. Those relationships, and how each character tries to navigate their place in the end of the world, are good fodder for parent/teen discussions after the film.

But then there’s the movie’s third act, which too tidily tries to conclude all the preceding tension. Fates of characters are left up in the air, but they don’t feel earned – the lack of conclusion feels lazy. Despite all the great drama that begins “Z for Zachariah,” its ending is a deflation and a deflection, making what could have been a pleasantly complicated film into an irritatingly inconclusive one.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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