The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Awakening the Zodiac

The identity of the Zodiac killer remains one of the great unsolved mysteries. The serial murderer claimed to have taken the lives of 37 people, and he taunted police with a series of letters that contained a code they could never fully break. Then it all just stopped abruptly. Did the Zodiac cease committing murders? Did he die, or find himself incapacitated in some way? No one knows for sure. The thriller Awakening the Zodiac posits an answer to that very mystery.

Shane West and Leslie Bibb play Mick and Zoe Branson, a financially struggling couple. In an effort to earn some quick cash, Mick bids on an abandoned storage locker, hoping to find something valuable inside that he can sell. What he ends up getting is a projector and some reels of film. When he and Zoe look at those reels, they discover what appear to be home movies shot by the Zodiac killer during his crimes. That's certainly something that could earn them a pretty penny. While trying to verify the footage, they find themselves being stalked by an unseen individual. Could Zodiac still be out there?

There's no doubt that Awakening the Zodiac operates on a really fascinating premise. The film, directed by Jonathan Wright, has a certain amount of demented fun in imagining that the psychopath might have filmed himself during the murders, and that he might be in hiding somewhere. Shane West and Leslie Bibb are terrific in their roles, effectively conveying the notion that their characters are driven to investigate by a belief that all their money woes could be cured by a historic discovery. They give the movie a sense of emotional grounding to balance out the more traditional thriller elements.

While admittedly atmospheric and stylishly made, the picture does have some problems generating the kind of chills it clearly wants to elicit. The screenplay by Wright, Jennifer Archer, and Mike Horrigan feels somewhat contrived at points. It's not always clear how the person stalking them is getting information about what they're doing. A few too many cliches work their way in, too, including the requisite ending that suggests things aren't over, even though they should be. Given that David Fincher so definitively explored the killer's bizarre methodology in his 2007 film Zodiac, any other picture on the same subject will pale in comparison unless it brings its A game.

As such, Awakening the Zodiac is a film of scattered pleasures. It's an easy watch with some undeniably positive qualities. It also doesn't really get under your skin the way it should. The verdict: not as good as it could have been, but not as bad as it could have been, either.

( 1/2 out of four)

Awakening the Zodiac is rated R violence and language. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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