Blu-ray Review: Z for Zachariah

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Z for Zachariah is a post-apocalyptic drama based on the 1974 book of the same name by Robert C. O'Brien. The book won some significant awards and is apparently a work of juvenile fiction. I've not read it, but the Craig Zobel-directed adaptation definitely doesn't feel aimed at youth. The story is mature and nuanced, but ultimately accomplishes very little in 95 minutes. There are but three characters in the entire film. Ann (Margot Robbie, Focus) struggles to live in a post-nuclear wilderness with only her dog to keep her company. John (Chiwetel Ejiofor, (12 Years a Slave), clad in a hazmat suit, arrives out of nowhere. He's amazed to have stumbled across an apparent safe haven, away from the highly radiated war zones.

Keep in mind we never see those zones. For better or worse, Z for Zachariah could've just as easily been a Western set 150 years ago, with just a few tweaks. That's not a knock really, just a heads-up that this isn't really sci-fi even though it's being sold as such. John is sick from radiation poisoning and Ann must nurse him back to health. The pair develop a strong bond, though one that seems strangely platonic. For all practical purposes, these could be the only two healthy people left on the planet. Yet while Ann is raring to go, John gives new meaning to the concept 'taking things slowly.'

Turns out there are other people around, as evidenced by the arrival of Caleb (Chris Pine, Star Trek). The dynamic shifts dramatically between Ann and John, since Caleb isn't interested in taking things slow. Pine adds a bit of unpredictability with a performance carefully poised between friendly and fearsome. The problem is that every time something even vaguely interesting happens, the plot stagnates.

Zobel previously directed the staggeringly great Compliance (2012), a riveting dramatization of real events (a prankster calls a fast food joint and, posing as a police officer, convinces its manager to detain and strip search a female employee—the results would be impossible to believe were they not true). My advice is this: seek out Compliance immediately. It was little seen and deserves to find a wider audience. Skip Z for Zachariah unless you happen to be a rabid fan of one of its three cast members. What begins as an interesting character study doesn't end up going anywhere interesting.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray presentation is strong, with a sufficiently pristine transfer of Tim Orr's cinematography and a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. The sound design is generally subtle, with a score by Heather McIntosh being one of its main points of interest.

Special features include a promotional 'making of' featurette, six minutes of deleted scenes, and 20 minutes of cast and crew interviews. The Blu-ray package includes a Digital HD download.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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