Two made-in-NZ features are playing Sundance with, according to early reviews, mixed results.
Craig Zobel’s Z for Zachariah marks the director’s third trip to Sundance (after Great Wall of Sound and Compliance ), but those getting an early look haven’t been impressed with what they’ve seen.
Both Variety’s Scott Foundas and The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy were left underwhelmed, with Foundas summing up the film as an “ambitious but ponderous post-apocalyptic Genesis tale”.
Adapted (in an exceptionally loose sense of the word) from Robert O’Brien’s novel, the tale has already been told once on screen in a 1984 BBC adaptation – which was considerably more faithful to the book, according to the critics.
Changing the race of one character, reversing the roles in a couple of key scenes and adding 50% to the story’s cast of human characters (in the form of Chris Pine) all seems to have failed to elevate what was originally an exploration dressed up as a novel on the relative merits of religion and science.
A low-voltage drama about the would-be last three people on Earth … effectively sets all its surface parts in motion but, crucially, doesn’t sufficiently develop that turbulent undercurrents of tension and intrigue that are called for
He also noted, “The drama really flattens out during the climactic stretch on its way to a very ho-hum conclusion”.
Foundas observed that the film “doesn’t lack for provocative ideas, though it never digs quite deep enough into any of them”, and closes with “an incredibly contrived climax straight out of an old Saturday morning serial”.
Both critics gave NZ a pass mark, saying “Shot in New Zealand, the film certainly looks good” and calling the production “a handsome-looking film (shot in widescreen, on remote New Zealand locations)”.
By contrast, British director John Maclean’s debut feature Slow West came in for much more positive responses from The Hollywood Reporter’s John DeFore and IndieWire’s Rodrigo Perez.
DeFore called it “A pitch-perfect debut … A wholly enjoyable buddy Western punctuated by occasional shocks of black humor” and noted that “A love of the genre is evident throughout the British/Kiwi production”.
Perez summed it up as “A dark but spirited fable … a terrific little parable” and also gave NZ a plug, writing “you can turn a camera in any direction and soak in some of the most gorgeous panoramic vistas you’ll ever see”.
Perez concluded, “Slow-burning and simmering, Slow West knows how to kick the voltage into high gear.”
Z For Zachariah plays in Sundance’s American Dramatic competition line-up; Slow West in the World Dramatic competition.
Other films with a NZ connection playing are NZ-Canada co-production Turbo Kid (Midnight) and Jake Mahaffy’s short AD 1363: the End of Chivalry.
Sundance runs until 2 February (NZ time).