Mick (Shane West) and Zoe Branson (Leslie Bibb) are struggling to make ends meet, living out of a trailer in Virginia. Instead of trying to save what little money they can get together through work, Mick splits on a storage locker auction with his friend Harvey (Matt Craven). Zoe is upset, but Harvey lets them know that the locker contained something that could be very valuable. Tucked away in a dresser is some 8mm films, which contain footage of the Zodiac Killer murdering a couple. With a $100,000 reward still available for anybody with information leading to an arrest, Mick, Zoe, and Harvey decide to figure out who owned the films in the hopes of discovering the person behind the crimes. Once their search is underway, it draws the attention of a murderer, who could very well be the famed Zodiac Killer they’re searching for.
At first glance, director Jonathan Wright’s film, Awakening the Zodiac, seems a little light on atmosphere to pull off what it promises. After an opening scene depicting the crime that the trio will eventually see on the 8mm films, things are rather comical and breezy. It certainly doesn’t feel like a film that will showcase a growing mystery and a bloody killer. West and Bibb have some great chemistry as a couple which is only increased when Craven is introduced as the rather wacky Harvey. You just can’t imagine these three winding up in a tense mystery, but it’s not long before the jokes disappear and the terror sets in.
A slightly out of place murder early in the film is the only misstep here, as it goes against the entire feeling of the film then. In fact, it doesn’t even really add up to much when things wrap up, except for a little extra gore for horror fans. Hang on a little longer and things will take hold. Mick and Harvey are immediately into the mystery of the Zodiac Killer. A touch of conspiracy nut is apparent in both men, and even the most wild suggestion seems logical to them. Zoe is a little more level headed, but even she can’t help getting caught up in the mystery of what’s happening. Everything is still a bit goofy at first, but when their search actually seems to be leading them to a series of suspicious characters, the tension gets jacked up.
It’s interesting to watch the rather outrageous ideas kind of pan out, and even if you have to overlook some fairly large problems in logic, it’s an exciting way to take a stab at the legacy of the never captured Zodiac Killer. The strong tension, performances, and mystery can’t help overshadow the rather predictable outcome though. There’s no surprise in who will survive, and the possible suspects are never quite strong enough to really make you think it could be that person. The ending will give viewers a treat though, and it felt like I was back watching any number of thrillers from the ’80s.