“Z FOR ZACHARIAH” My rating: B (Opens Aug. 28 at the Cinetopia)
95 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
In a lush valley somewhere in Appalachia, a young woman lives alone. With her dog she hunts wild game. She grows vegetables using hand tools.
The valley is her entire world — not by choice but of necessity. In the wake of nuclear disaster that has left most of Earth too radioactive to sustain life, this few square miles somehow has clean air and water.
It’s a miracle.
At least that’s what Ann (Margot Robbie) thinks. She’s lived here all her life with her father — a rural preacher — and a younger brother. But months ago the menfolk ventured forth to look for survivors beyond the valley. They’ve not returned. Probably won’t.
So when an outsider arrives, it’s cause for both celebration and concern.
Happily, John (Chiwetel Ejiofor) appears to be a pretty good guy. Reeling from radiation poisoning, he’s slow to regain his strength. He was a research engineer who survived the crisis in an underground government bunker. But after months of claustrophobia he decided he’d rather take his chances on dying under a blue sky.
Written by Nissar Modi and directed by Craig Zobel (“Compliance”), “Z for Zachariah” is a quiet, reflective, tightly-wound post-apocalyptic tale which relies on sharp characterizations instead of special effects.
Ann and John are happy to have each other, but they are distinctly different individuals. She’s religious (the film’s title refers a children’s Bible book, “A is for Adam,” that sits on her bookshelf) and while no dummy — the house is jammed with books — has only limited experience with the world beyond her homestead. She may very well be a virgin.
John, on the other hand, is a rationalist…either agnostic or atheist. His faith is in science and his own abilities. Soon he’s contemplating building a waterwheel-powered electric generator at the foot of a nearby waterfall. Of course he’ll have to tear down the homey chapel in which Ann’s father used to preach. They’ll need the wood for construction material.
But when they’re done he and Ann will have lights and an operating freezer in which to preserve food.