Z for Zachariah (2015)

(On Cable TV, May 2016) As post-apocalyptic thrillers go, Z for Zachariah plays things more intimately than most. There are only three characters in the story, hence the drama: Margot Robbie initially stars as a young woman who has almost unexpectedly lived through a global nuclear disaster, her universe now limited to a small valley where the radioactive fallout can’t enter. She’s managing to hang on, but her world is turned upside down when she comes across another survivor, a scientist played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Their relationship is difficult to begin with, yet things get even more complicated when a third man, much younger and friendlier (Chris Pine) also makes his way in the valley. The resulting tension isn’t pleasant for anyone, especially when science and religion are set up as mutually incompatible pursuits, and an unhealthy rivalry begins between the two men, leaving our heroin scared and disturbed from her lonely life. Far from being cheerful, Z for Zachariah works well as an acting showcase for all three actors (with Robbie earning a chance to prove the kind of dramatic talents that don’t fit with her persona in blockbuster movies) but get annoying when it aims for simplistic allegory. As a feminist twist on post-apocalyptic stories, it’s inconclusive—another five minutes of definitive resolution may have helped matters, especially given the liberties taken from the original novel. It amounts to a film that qualifies as mildly interesting but not essential, unless you’re a post-apocalyptic junkie or a fan of the three actors. At least it does a few unusual things in the sub-genre, and it handled with some competence.

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