Sunday, May 07, 2017

Awakening the Zodiac Keeps its Secrets Under Lock and Key: A Film Review

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*full disclosure: an online screener of this film was provided by the publicity arm of Vertical Entertainment.

**there are no real spoilers here. Though, it would be best to go see film, before reading any reviews as Awakening the Zodiac is partly a mystery.

Tagline: "The Deadliest Serial Killer in U.S. History...is Back!"

Director: Jonathan Wright.

Writers: Jennifer Archer, Mike Horrigan and Jonathan Wright.

Cast: Shane West, Leslie Bibb, Matt Craven, Kenneth Welsh and Stephen McHattie.

Awakening the Zodiac is an upcoming release and thriller. The film, from director Jonathan Wright, was written by: Wright, Jennifer Archer and Mike Horrigan. The film brings the infamous Zodiac Killer back to life! Prolific in the late '60s, this murderer is still killing in the present year. Initially, this killer took five lives, claimed thirty-seven murders and has added a few more, in this film. Awakening the Zodiac has only a few foibles, most of which occur in the final couple of scenes. In the meantime, married couple Zoe (Leslie Bibb) and Mick (Shane West) are trying to track down a hundred grand in cash, by finding out the Zodiac's identity; this is no easy task. The chemistry amongst the three central castmates is realistic, while the witty dialogue gelled the characters together, well. Awakening the Zodiac is a great mystery, with lots of tension and should not be missed.

A couple of small criticisms, involving a short scene and the ending, will be put to rest first. Near the mid-point, a minor character pops out of a room with a double-barrelled shotgun. There is a pump action shotgun sound. But, it is obvious the character is not holding this type of gun. This is a minor sound editing error. More importantly, there is this pressure, in horror and thrillers, to leave endings open. This is done for a couple of reasons: to keep the tragedy or tension going, or to set up a sequel. Thrillers and horror titles make their bread and butter by unsettling the viewer. If events, in the film, are closed out, then the viewer can breathe a sigh of relief. But, the story in Awakening the Zodiac does not really end as the credits emerge (even though it should). A few shots of some of the deceased characters would have been enough. Yet, the writers want viewers to believe that the killer is still operating, despite an action fuelled, murderous climax. A late appearance, by the Zodiac, or another Zodiac killer, came across as a bit forced, or unnecessary - to this viewer. Still, there is much more to enjoy within Awakening the Zodiac than to dislike.

One of the more remarkable film elements is the story, which will be discussed next. The MacGuffin in the film is two old film reels and a hundred thousand in cash. Zoe and Mick are financially down on their luck. Both want a better life, but work is too mundane? So, Mick hatches a plan and buys an old storage locker. Inside, there is a bunch of junk, but also two interesting spindles. Each shows the Zodiac Killer at work. Hoping to gain the FBI's reward, Mick works with his friend Harvey (Matt Craven), to identify this long-living enigma. The trio of characters (Zoe, Mick and Harvey) find this to be bloody hard work as they: break into homes, steal files and piece together small clues. The trail of bodies grows, with these characters targeted by the killer, himself. Awakening the Zodiac is a great example of engaging storytelling.

This viewer enjoyed the chemistry between the main characters. The three primary characters enjoy their scenes together. They are also confident enough to deliver a few great dialogue sequences, in the back of moldy vans or on the road. Interactions appear genuine and authentic. Also, the dialogue is cleverly written and lively. There is no fluff, in Awakening the Zodiac. The pacing and material required actors, who are constantly on their toes. Shane West, Leslie Bibb and Matt Craven bring a lot to their roles, despite some of difficulty in believing the Zodiac Killer is still alive. Each performance sells the film's central story.

Essentially, Awakening the Zodiac is a mystery and a compelling one. The film relies on the mystery of the killer's identity to create its tension. Therefore, the killer's identity and a couple of the film's Red Herrings will not even be mentioned here. Though, the big reveal, in Act III, was a bit of a surprise. This viewer did not clue into the film's primary secret and many other viewers will not as well. The final denouement and reveal is well crafted and obfuscated enough, to create a compelling final surprise. Also, there is a lot going on in the film and the pacing is consistently moving the story along. So, it is difficult to unpack the final reveal, despite the appearance of so few characters. This is one crime thriller, which has been constructed in enough of a complex fashion, to deliver an epic finale.

Awakening the Zodiac is slated to appear in North American theatres. Vertical Entertainment will launch the first showings, this June, for US thriller and horror fans. In Canada, LevelFILM will handle the theatrical release; a specific Canadian launch date is coming soon. Awakening the Zodiac is a compelling thriller, with: great performances, a very well set-up reveal and a few other surprises. Though, actor Stephen McHattie only really has a cameo and a few lines. And, the ending comes across as a bit tacked on. Still, Awakening the Zodiac brings a lot of great dialogue to the screen and a number of tense situations. Films fans will enjoy this rehash of some older serial killing material, to finally put the Zodiac Killer to rest, forever!

Overall: 7.75 out of 10.

A trailer for Awakening the Zodiac is here: Awakening the Zodiac Trailer on 28DLA


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