An intriguing set-up yields a disappointingly ponderous payoff in Craig Zobel’s post-apocalyptic drama, “Z for Zachariah.”
Set in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, the film concerns a young rural American woman (Margot Robbie), fending for herself on her family’s oddly unaffected farmstead. She forms a fragile bond with a scientist (Chiwetel Ejiofor) whom she nurses back to health from radiation sickness.
But the possibility that they’re the last two people on Earth proves unfounded with the arrival of a mysterious, handsome stranger (Chris Pine), whose shaded motivations provide the decidedly dystopian framework for a tense triangle.
Adapted by Nissar Modi from the posthumously published novel by YA author Robert C. O’Brien, the film boasts a trio of thoughtfully considered performances. Zobel, who directed the controversial 2012 film “Compliance,” sets an undeniably fertile ground, but he proceeds to let it lie fallow.
What should be a sexually and emotionally charged atmosphere instead ends up feeling like an intellectual exercise, with the actors attempting mightily to simulate chemistry that simply doesn’t exist.
Although some will undoubtedly respond to Zobel’s intensely studied approach to the biblical allegory that is “Z for Zachariah,” others will be inspired to catch some Zs.
“Z for Zachariah.”
MPAA rating: PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, partial nudity, brief strong language.
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.
Playing: ArcLight Hollywood.