J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Awakening the Zodiac: He’s Back

The Zodiac Killer arguably inspired two of the nastiest copycats ever. At least the New York and Kobe, Japan Zodiacs were eventually caught and unmasked. To this today, the identity of San Francisco’s original Zodiac Killer remains a mystery. Some assume (or hope) he has long since died, but the notorious serial killer is about to come out of retirement in Jonathan Wright’s Awakening the Zodiac (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Mick Branson compulsively bids on unclaimed storage lockers, because it is the irresponsible, reality-TV kind of thing to do. He thinks he and his pawn-shop owning crony Harvey Something are onto a sure thing, but this locker turns out to be complicated. There were not a lot of good re-sale items, but they did find home movies of the Zodiac Killer stalking his prey. Harvey proposes using the locker’s paper trail to track down the murderer and collect the $100,000 reward. Zoe Branson recognizes a bad idea when she hears one, but she reluctantly agrees, because they need the money.

Unbeknownst to the Bransons, the Zodiac Killer is still quite spry and rather put out that the storage company sold his unit out from under him after only three weeks (actually, our three amateur sleuths totally agree with him on that one). While the Bransons noisily chase down leads and Harvey Who sets his mind on cracking the cryptic coded messages the killer left behind to taunt the police, the genuine Zodiac gets back into the killing habit.

Straddling horror and mystery, Awakening is a nifty character-driven genre film that smartly incorporates the known facts and established urban legends surrounding the Zodiac case. The Bibbs are also a dim-witted but brightly appealing couple, who are easy to root for. It is sort of like watching Jeff Bridges and Kim Bassinger in Robert Benton’s Nadine get caught up in an exponentially more sinister caper.

Matt Craven supplies the perfect counter-point as the colorfully anti-social Harvey X. Kenneth Welsh from Twin Peaks and Nicholas Campbell and Stephen McHattie, both from Canada, also add plenty of creepiness in their suspicious supporting roles. Indeed, the entire cast clearly enjoys the crisp, sardonic dialogue written by Wright, Jennifer Archer, and Mike Horrigan.

This is the sort of under-heralded genre film that over-delivers and far exceeds expectations. The ending is a bit of the usual let-down, but the set-up of the first two and a half acts is tense but fun. Highly recommended for fans of serial killer thrillers, Awakening the Zodiac opens this Friday (6/6) in New York, at the Cinema Village.

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