Film Review: AWAKENING THE ZODIAC (Canada 2017)

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awakening the zodiacThe story follows a down-on-their-luck couple who discovers a serial killer’s film reels.

Director: Jonathan Wright
Writers: Jennifer Archer, Mike Horrigan
Stars: Shane West, Leslie Bibb, Matt Craven

Review by Gilbert Seah

The Zodiac killer, who threatened the San Francisco area was as famous as Jack the Ripper was in London, in the day which was not too long ago. Zodiac’s murders were accompanied by taunting letters to the police, along with evidence of the crimes. When Zodiac threatened to attack school busses, authorities had police cars follow the busses. But more important of all, Zodiac went further by accompanying his letters with ciphers, which he claimed contained clues to his identity. Zodiac is believed to have killed between 7 and 12 people in California between 1966 and 1971. The last Zodiac letter was received by police in 1974. This is where the film AWAKENING THE ZODIAC takes its inspiration.

Following history, police investigated over 2500 people but no one was ever arrested. One famous suspect was Editor Richard Gaiowski, and this person is referenced in the film.

It all begins when a down on their luck couple Mick Branson (Shane West) and Zoe (Leslie Bibb) discover a reel of what they think is the murderer’s tapes. This happens, when they pay for the contents of a storage locker, the owner of which defaulted on its contents after not paying the rental fees. This is a sorry excuse for the script, which never achieves the status of its source material. Mick and Zoe wish to split the $100,000 reward money with Harvey (Matt Craven) for what their think is relevant information on the Zodiac killer. Harvey is an encrypting expert and he can figure out the name of the killer since the killer’s name is supposed to be encrypted in his coded letters.

Mick, Zoe and Harvey investigate while the Zodiac killer strikes again. For all that the film is worth, director Wright’s film deteriorates into a slasher film in which it ends with the slasher, in this case the Zodiac killer, chasing after Zoe, running for dear life in the dark, while defending herself the best she can. There is nothing new in the climax of this film that has not been seen already in countless horror films.

The only fairly interesting thing about the story is the relationship of the couple. They are broke. Zoe keeps falling for Mick’s get rich quick schemes that either never work or are extremely dangerous. It is interesting to see how the couple have different reactions once disaster strikes. When the Zodiac killer appears for example, Zoe wants to to get out while Mick wishes to confront the killer head on with a baseball bat. Zoe is always mad at Mick but Mick can always calm her down with hints of sex. It is an interesting relationship, one which I am sure exists in many couples in which loser needs another loser in order to survive.

Harvey decrypts the code much too easily for comfort. If the police are unable to identify the Zodiac killer after investigating 2500 suspects, it is difficult to believe the killer’s identity compromised by the couple.

This is one of those weird films made in Canada based on American source material. The main leads are American while Craven is Canadian. The only well-known name in the cast is Stephen McHattie who plays the Zodiac killer.

As a thriller, AWAKENING THE ZODIAC is a pretty steady snooze.


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