Zodiac’ thrills audience with less gore, more grit

Bridget Nordquist

Bridget Nordquist

Once in a while, I need to go to a scary movie in order to remind myself that, yes indeed, I still do not like scary movies. This is what I expected when I went to “Zodiac” recently. I predicted a scary flick that I was going to regret seeing and pay for by being so frightened that I need to carry a bat around constantly. However, “Zodiac” was much more than a mindless horror-fest and instead proved to be an intriguing thriller.

If you’ve heard anything about “Zodiac,” you probably heard that it is based on true events. More precisely, the film is based on two non-fiction books written by Robert Graysmith who worked at the San Francisco Chronicle during the events in question. The Zodiac killer terrorized California in the late 1960s, murdering at least five people. During his reign of terror, the Zodiac kept the country enthralled by sending letters and cryptograms to newspapers and police. Most frighteningly, the Zodiac was never caught, leaving the case open to this day in several California counties.

Clearly, the story sounds like the stuff of nightmares and would make for an interesting movie. Although the story has been made into film before, the most recent version stands on its own. Consequently, I enjoyed this movie for several reasons.

First, I was pleased that “Zodiac” was much more of a psychological thriller than a horror flick. Oh, there were definitely a few gruesome moments and bloody spectacles, but these added to the mystery of the film’s true motives. Instead, the movie was more about the people surrounding the Zodiac who became obsessed with the criminal, including cops, journalists and average joes. For me, delving into the psyches of these people was more compelling than a gory movie that only succeeds in scaring the audience.

“Zodiac” was also very well-acted. The always-hot Jake Gyllenhaal plays Robert Graysmith, the author of the books the film is based on. Although the movie took too long to get into this angle, Gyllenhaal brilliantly plays Graysmith as a man so obsessed with the Zodiac that he seems to become a victim himself, losing his job, family and nearly sanity to chase the killer. Mark Ruffalo is the cop in charge of the case who becomes equally obsessed with the Zodiac but kind of fades into the background as Gyllenhaal’s character takes over. Another standout performance comes from Robert Downey, Jr. He plays the tortured Chronicle crime reporter whose is also destroyed by the Zodiac mystery. Downey, Jr. as an alcoholic druggy, oddly enough, always rings true.

Although “Zodiac” seemed to drag and meander at times, it was worth seeing. It was well-acted, intriguing and exciting enough to keep my attention for most of its two-and-a-half hours. “Zodiac” will have you speculating if such a killer could be lurking in America, while at the same time still allowing you to sleep at night.