The scariest movies are the ones that make you uncomfortable as you sit in a dark theater completely surrounded by strangers. They make you glance out of the corner of your eye at the nameless shadowy figures around you as you sink further into your seat. They are the movies that make you sweat as you leave the theatre, even though the night is cold. They make you check the back seat of your car before you climb in. They are movies that make you believe you are in mortal danger. The scariest movies are the ones that are real.
Zodiac is based on true events that took place in the San Francisco area between the 1960s and the 1980s. And although this movie will terrify you, it goes much deeper than that. If you are looking for a slasher flick, you will be disappointed. This is a film about people, and how the murdered are not always the only victims.The Zodiac was a serial killer who terrorised San Francisco for three decades. He would prey on random victims, hunting them like animals, relishing their brutal deaths, then taunting the public and police by writing gloating and threatening letters to local newspapers. The city was faced with curfews and was thrown into pandemonium when The Zodiac wrote "School children make a nice target, I think I shall wipe out a school bus some morning... just pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out".
The investigation soon turns to obsession for the two detectives involved in uncovering the killer's identity, Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards). Their personal lives are consumed and ruined as the relentless search leads from dead end to dead end, and it is made worse by The Zodiac's mocking letters. But they are not the only ones interested in the case. Local newspaper reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr) has a criminal insight second-to-none, and cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) develops an interest in the case that soon becomes obsessive and addictive. And
addiction can only lead to great personal loss.
"Zodiac" is based on two books written by Robert Graysmith. Many years after the killings ceased and the authorities stopped actively looking for the murderer, Graysmith uncovered new evidence in the case. Assisted by Detective Dave Toschi (who incidentally was the true-life inspiration behind the classic cinematic characters played by Clint Eastwood in "Dirty Harry" and Steve McQueen in "Bullitt"), Robert Graysmith started private investigations into the Zodiac killings. In the face of great personal danger to both himself and his family, he followed strong new leads in the case, which are explored in some of the most chilling scenes in this film.
This is a long movie. Over 2 and a half hours sitting in a theater can be hard on one's hemorrhoids. But at no time in this movie did I see anyone leave their seats for extra popcorn. I crossed my legs rather than get up for a toilet break. This is a gripping film that draws you in, a classic true-life whodunnit that will engross you right to the end... and beyond. Director David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, Alien 3, Panic Room) has delivered a meticulously researched, very stylish production that fits in well with his impressive back catalogue. The subject is close to Fincher's heart, as he was a school kid at the time of The Zodiac's reign of terror, and remembers clearly the horror of hearing the killer's threat on school buses.
It is interesting to note that "Zodiac" was shot using high definition video rather than standard film stock, which means the picture quality is not always satisfying, and the hand held shots may make you dizzy at times. It is a dark and frequently violent film, although refreshingly it lacks any graphic blood and guts. Like in the old classics, horror is mostly left to the imagination.
Brilliant performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr are undermined by a lack lustre performance by Anthony Edwards (I have seen brown paint that is more interesting to watch). Main characters seem to appear and disappear without warning, some simply vanish completely as if they were never there. In the case of Anthony Edwards, I'm not sure if he actually vanishes or just stands in front of a brown wall and gets lost. I recommend that you don't research the Zodiac killings too much before you see this film. Let events unfold in front of you and enjoy a master movie maker build suspense and fear.
And don't forget to check the back seat before you get in your car.