The Zodiac Killer has baffled experts for decades. Authorities have never been able to find this sensationalized serial killer who was most active from the 1960’s-70’s in the San Francisco Bay area. He is known for murdering or seriously injuring several victims, reaching out to police via taunting phone calls, and demanding that newspapers publish the cryptograms and letters the sent them describing his crimes. If the papers refused, he threatened to continue killing people at random.
He tormented the innocent and the police for several years before disappearing in 1974. The Zodiac Killer claimed to have killed 37 people, but police confirmed seven known victims. With such an intriguing and arrogant criminal, it’s only natural that Hollywood would immortalize him on film. From the early 70’s onwards, directors have approached him in different ways, and this time, he gets the slasher treatment in Awakening the Zodiac.
Mick (Shane West) and Zoe (Leslie Bibb) are a broke couple who live in a trailer in Virginia and yearn for a better way of life. Mick is a landscaper with a penchant for buying storage lockers in arrears, and this time he feels he’s hit the jackpot with his latest acquisition purchased with his friend Harvey (Matt Craven), a local pawn shop owner. Harvey has found old film reels of murders amidst the locker junk, and he is certain it’s the work of the Zodiac Killer. There’s reward money to be had with this find, and when they dig deeper they soon find that someone else is interested in those films, and struggle to figure out the mystery in true slasher-sleuthing style.
Director Jonathan Wright is known for his second assistant director work on Urban Legend, Exit Wounds and 16 Blocks, as well as directing several made-for-TV films. With these popular pulpy films under his belt, his vision of the Zodiac Killer gets a similar workup reminiscent of a slasher film. I can’t say I was a fan of this representation. While West and Bibb had decent chemistry on-screen couple, the slick style reminded me of the remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown, which was just ok in my opinion, but more cohesive than Awakening the Zodiac. There were a lot of overly convenient details in the story, like Harvey’s special ops decoding skills as well as some implausible decisions made by most of the characters. Examples of the latter include researching alone, in the dark, in a closed library; or not following up on a missing person. The ruses in the plot were also paper-thin, and even my beloved and iconic Canadian actor Stephen McHattie couldn’t save this film for me.
Awakening the Zodiac might be interesting to check out as late-night TV fare, but the overall film will make you want to seek out other representations of the Zodiac Killer to get a firmer grasp on such an elusive true crime figure.