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The Zodiac DVD Review

Written by Sham

DVD released by THINKFilm

Zodiac01 Zodiac02

Directed by Alexander Bulkley
Written by Kelly Bulkley and Alexander Bulkley
2005, R1, 96 minutes
Rated R

Starring:
Justin Chambers as Matt Parish
Robin Tunney as Laura Parish
Rory Culkin as Johnny Parish
William Mapother as Dale Coverling
Brad William Henke as Bill Gregory
Rex Linn as Jim Martinez
Phillip Baker Hall as Frank Perkins
Marty Lindsey as Zodiac Killer
Brian Bloom as Voice of Zodiac

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Movie:

The Zodiac is a classically structured slasher movie based on real events. It starts like any other splatter film of its ilk, as two lovers keep each other company in a parked car. When another vehicle pulls up behind theirs with headlights blaring, all hell breaks loose. The teenagers die in a grisly fashion; the killer gets away to continue his bidding; and a small town becomes the center of a frenzied murder mystery.

It’s no surprise that The Zodiac, director Alexander Bulkley’s sophomore project, doesn’t offer much originality-wise. After all, the killer himself is certainly one of the more popularized ones of the past five decades, having ostensibly inspired movies like Lovers Lane and Cherry Falls.  Interestingly enough, as the story began to unfold, I became more interested in those affected by the murders than the killer himself.  I can’t say that about any other recent serial killer chronicle.

The movie takes place in a small Californian town in 1968. Justin Chambers (TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy”) stars as Matt Parish, a police detective who becomes beguiled by The Zodiac Killer, a local psychopath who disrupts a small town community’s way of life.  Matt and his family, including wife Laura (Robin Tunney – Hollywoodland) and son Johnny (Rory Culkin – Signs), are exclusively affected.  Matt becomes obsessed with his work as he tries to solve the mystery, and Johnny becomes a personal detective of the Zodiac killer’s bizarre puzzles.

The Zodiac isn’t groundbreaking material (David Fincher’s Zodiac, a bigger-budgeted drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal, will be released in 2007), but it’s apparent the director and actors are committed to their work and express an authentic interest in the narrative.  One of the best scenes in the film is when, one night, Laura locks the door before bed.  Matt comes home incensed at her actions, realizing his work could put his family in danger. Without this sincere focus on its characters, the film would fall flat on its face.

Performances are exceptional across the board, the standout being a fantastic feat by Robin Tunney as the distraught wife. Justin Chambers admirably carries the film, and Rory Culkin gives a subdued performance.  Efficiently edited by Greg Tillman, the movie avoids flashy expositions to acquiesce with the film’s slow pacing. All of this, combined with the earnest direction of Bulkley, is why The Zodiac is more than your typical crime story.

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Video & Audio

The DVD is presented in a 16x9 anamorphic widescreen transfer (although incorrectly labeled on the back of the DVD case as having a full frame presentation).  The picture looks good with limited grain and artifacts.

The 5.1 Dolby Digital track sounds fine, too, although the back speakers are used intermittently due to the absence of any garish noises (the film is mostly carried by dialogue).  Overall, though, I was very pleased with the picture and sound.

Spanish subtitles are also available.

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Extras

  • Director and Writer Commentary
  • “Behind the Zodiac” Featurette
  • The Zodiac Letters
  • Chronology of The Zodiac Killings
  • Trailer Gallery

The commentary with writer/director Alexander Bulkley and real-life brother and co-writer Kelly Bulkley is the best feature on the disc. Both siblings know what they’re talking about (just watch the film to see how well their knowledge transfers to the screen), and the commentary is always interesting.

Also on the disc is a segment called “Behind the Zodiac,” an 11-minute featurette highlighting interview clips of the actors in the movie.

Following the commentary and featurette are “Zodiac Ciphers,” an index of secret messages the killer sent to the police;  “The Zodiac Letters,” which is self-explanatory; and “Chronology of The Zodiac Killings,” which is basically a timeline of essential events dealing with The Zodiac Killer.

Topping off the special features is a trailer gallery, featuring previews for Down in the Valley, 10th & Wolf, The King, and Awesome; I… Shot That.

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Grades

Movie – *** ½ / *****

Picture – **** / *****

Audio – **** / *****

Special Features – *** ½ / *****

Overall – *** ½ / *****

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Conclusion

The Zodiac Killer once said in a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle, “I am waiting for a good movie about me. Who will play me? I am now in control of all things.”

Until next year’s release of David Fincher’s Zodiac, I imagine this film to whet the appetite of any crime and serial killer enthusiast.

Want to comment on this review?  Head over to the HorrorTalk Review Forum.

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