Craig Zobel made a splash at 2012’s Sundance Film Festival with the controversial “Compliance,” which split critics into camps that found it either effectively horrifying or exploitative. Zobel is back at Sundance with “Z for Zachariah,” and his new film is getting mixed reviews for different reasons. While some critics have written admiringly about the post-apocalyptic film’s minimalist approach and praised the performances of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie and Chris Pine, many write that the film loses steam as soon as it starts to focus more on the love triangle.
Bilge Ebiri, Vulture
The film illustrates their dynamic in the most uninspired way possible, with regular cuts to Ejiofor’s face looking silent and jealous at the end of every exchange between Pine and Robbie; seriously, you could turn it into a meme or a drinking game. The descent into a tepid thriller of sexual jealousy slowly negates the abstract, almost metaphorical quality of this film — and it ultimately undoes the spell cast by that mesmerizing first half. Read more.
David Ehrlich, Little White Lies
Robbie, able to overcome a slightly cartoonish Southern accent, does a phenomenal job of negotiating Ann’s doubts and desires, but her strong turn is emblematic of a cast that’s able to free their characters from the grip of a director who takes an inordinate degree of pleasure in manipulating his audience. Toying with the viewer’s trust like a cat batting around his fresh kill, Zobel is fetishistically infatuated with contorting our judgement. Unlike in “Compliance,” however, the director’s sadistic streak pays off, as the film ultimately gives way to a sudden ambiguity that realizes the stakes and uncertainties of Ann’s predicament. Read more.
Scott Foundas, Variety
Save for a pesky snake problem, the Garden of Eden had a lot going for it, including lush greenery, a farm-to-table diet and a perfect male-female ratio. The post-apocalyptic Eden at the center of Craig Zobel’s “Z for Zachariah” offers many of the same amenities, only here there are two Adams vying for the attention of one Eve, with predictably fraught consequences. It’s a scenario with obvious appeal for Zobel, whose love-it-or-hate-it 2012 “Compliance” subjected a gaggle of characters to a psychological crucible modeled on Stanley Milgram’s controversial obedience experiments. This time, the stakes are even higher — the repopulation of the planet — but the dramatic tension considerably less, in a movie that feels stranded somewhere between serious artistic ambition and the dystopian franchise-building of “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” et al. Read more.
Tim Grierson, Screen International
As a follow-up to his confrontational “Compliance,” director Craig Zobel again examines how hell is other people with “Z For Zachariah,” telling the story of three mismatched souls living together in a post-apocalyptic landscape where the greatest fears aren’t rampaging zombies but, rather, simple human behavior. Featuring minimalist, expressive turns from its only three actors — Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie and Chris Pine — this quiet but evocative drama has a slow-burn effect, leaving a tart aftertaste that’s hard to wash away. Read more.
Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian
There’s a lot of bare symbolism and unspoken feelings, but not a lot of action. No comment about race is made until far into the film, and its mention also doubles as one of the films sole jokes. But what begins as a deeply philosophical survivors’ story eventually deflates into a soap opera-ish love triangle. While these story points are perhaps the easiest to relate to, they ultimately aren’t that interesting. Yet the depth of the world and all three of the performances are just enough to stay through from A to Z. Read more.
Vadim Rizov, Filmmaker Magazine
Often similarly sharp and sudden in introducing or upending established dynamics, “Zachariah‘s” undone by a classic sci-fi problem: the premise may be neat, but moment-to-moment execution is comparatively underwhelming. A scene where the trio dive into a lake visually resembles nothing so much as the “Wild Things” poster where Denise Richards and Neve Campbell rear up ominously from the water; a close-up of Pine, sultry and glowing in the moonlight, drew brief derisive laughter. Read more.
Z FOR ZACHARIAH is really interesting, and beautifully acted. Weird gender and race politics, but maybe that’s the point?
— Richard Lawson (@rilaws) January 24, 2015
I’m no fan of insta-reaction fever but it must be said: ‘Z for Zachariah’ is fucking incredible. #Sundance2015
— David Fear (@davidlfear) January 24, 2015
Z FOR ZACHARIAH = A brave take on the post-apocalyptic genre, an understated portrait of how real, decent people might actually behave.
— Hammer to Nail (@hammertonail) January 24, 2015
Z FOR ZACHARIAH (Zobel): Ruralized remake of the THE WORLD THE FLESH THE DEVIL loses some of that film’s power, mostly because it’s 2015.
— AADowd (@AADowd) January 24, 2015
Z FOR ZACHARIAH: There’s underplaying the end of the world, and then there’s not really playing it at all.
— Scott Renshaw (@scottrenshaw) January 24, 2015
Z for Zachariah (Zobel): 44. Kind of stunned that folks are loving this. I was with it until it tossed the book aside & became a dopey ❤️��.
— Mike D’Angelo (@gemko) January 24, 2015
Z FOR ZACHARIAH: U for underwhelmed, A for anonymous. Doesn’t feel like Zobel’s old films; also doesn’t feel like something new.
— Sam Adams (@SamuelAAdams) January 25, 2015
Nuclear holocaust leaves behind two men and a Robbie in Z FOR ZACHARIAH, which swaps survival anxiety for a bit too much love-triangulating.
— Joshua Rothkopf (@joshrothkopf) January 25, 2015