Tag Archives: David Fincher

No One Can Hear You Scream: Nate’s Top Ten Horror Films set in Space

If space really is the final frontier then there’s going to be all sorts of scary shit lurking out there we’ve never heard of, a notion that Hollywood has taken full advantage of in exploring the SciFi genre. The chief threat would of course be extraterrestrials and naturally loads of fun films have been done on that but I also like to observe how it’s branched out into things like rogue A.I., evil alternate dimensions or haunted planets for some really imaginative ventures. Here are my top ten personal favourites!

10. Christian Dugay’s Screamers

This one’s pretty cool, if a bit low budget and schlocky. So basically in a distant galaxy there’s an interplanetary war going on for decades and one side invents something called Screamers to hunt their foe and turn the tide. They’re self replicating, blade wielding, problem solving machines called Screamers but eventually they get too smart and instead of just hunting down enemy forces they pretty much go after anything that moves, not to mention start evolving themselves and it’s up to one squadron of soldiers to wipe them out. The creatures themselves are actually pretty frightening and man do they ever scream so it makes for a neat horror flick. Plus Peter ‘Robocop’ Weller plays the military commander and you can never go wrong with him.

9. Rand Ravich’s The Astronaut’s Wife

This is admittedly an odd choice because of its hour and forty minute runtime only about ten minutes is actually set in space, and only just above the earth’s atmosphere. However, the ambiguous evil force that astronaut Johnny Depp encounters there infects and follows him back down to the surface and the resulting film has an exceedingly unearthly feel to it. Charlize Theron classes up the joint as the titular wife whose keen intuition red flags his creepy behaviour early on and adds tension to the proceedings. Tom Noonan, Joe Morton, Donna Murphy, Nick Cassavetes and Clea Duvall add further pedigree as well. This is a critically shunned film for the most part but I enjoy it, there’s a slick Rosemary’s Baby vibe, Depp and Theron do very well in their roles and the otherworldly presence, although felt and never seen, is apparent in every shadowy frame.

8. Andrej Bartkowiak’s Doom

You can all fight me on this one. It’s a shit film no doubt, but I consider it hella great entertainment, even if it has little to nothing in common with the games. Dwayne Johnson and Karl Urban leading a team of rowdy marines on a Martian extermination mission? Yes please. Rosamund Pike as a sexy scientist? Absolutely. Never mind that we only see actual Martian landscape for a ten second establishing shot, that can be forgiven when I consider the bitchin’ soundtrack, hardcore creature gore, wicked cool first person shooter sequence and scene stealing supporting work from cult favourite Richard Brake as the obligatory perverted loudmouth mercenary in their ranks.

7. John Carpenter’s Ghosts Of Mars

Another Martian outing yay! And another universally reviled film that I absolutely love double yay!! In case you haven’t noticed by now I’m trying not to always aim for the obvious choices here, which can be controversial. However, I will never compromise and choose a film that I don’t like just to be contrary, these choices genuinely reflect my taste and I own them. This film is a heavy metal induced bundle of fun, a B movie western gem that doesn’t take itself too seriously, has a solid cast, gnarly SFX makeup and one headbanger of a score from Anthrax. Plus, Natasha Henstridge and Ice Cube make one badass buddy team-up to take down vengeful Martian spirits possessing the corpses of slaughtered miners.

6. Jim Isaac’s Jason X

Jason Voorhees in space!! This is one of my favourite franchise entries, mostly because of Jason’s epic new gear upgrade and also the awesome cameo from David Cronenberg who, yes, gets mauled by our hero. Jason has been in cryogenic suspension for hundreds of years and awakens in the 25th century to wreck havoc aboard a spaceship full of intergalactic college students. You pretty much improve any franchise by making one that’s set in space but you also have to have a fun production to back up the concept (check out Leprechaun in space for a failed example) and this one is dope. Foxy Lexa Doig from Continuum makes a cool Final Girl, there’s a spectacularly gruesome kill involving liquid nitrogen and two slutty camper chicks get what may be the best lines of the whole series. Also, Jason just looks so fly here with his space grade machete and chromed up super-mask.

5. David Twohy’s Pitch Black

This launched the epic Riddick franchise that I will always champion and went on to traverse space opera, animation and video game territory but the catalyst is this lean, mean creature feature showcasing Vin Diesel in probably his best role. As a ragtag crew m crash lands on a distant world with three suns, all about to plunge the planet into nighttime for months, while hordes of vicious extraterrestrial predators who can’t stand light come crawling out of caverns to hunt. Perfect timing right? Riddick & Co must set aside their dysfunctions and work together to fight back, survive and repair a damaged ship so they can ditch this dangerous rock for good. It’s good old fashioned mid level budget SciFi horror fun, before the series took off and soared to new heights in the equally fun but different Chronicles Of Riddick.

4. Christian Alvert’s Pandorum

This film was overlooked and I can somewhat see why. It’s a horror to be sure but there’s a quiet, contemplative nature to the exposition and I think people weren’t expecting something so complex as opposed to a straight up deep space monster flick. Two astronauts (Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster) awaken on a mammoth derelict space station stranded somewhere among the stars. Where were they headed? Where’s the rest of the crew? What are those chilling animalistic noises emanating from the hallways? This is a fun, frightening one to figure out, it’s got truly freaky creatures, a weird psychological aspect and one kicker of an ending.

3. Tobe Hoopers’s Lifeforce

Who doesn’t love vampires from space?! This one is a real oddity, cobbled together with various elements and ideas but dementedly committed to its singular vision and as a result comes out an inspired winner and one of the absolute weirdest SciFi flicks out there. Steve Railback leads a team of astronauts who discover slumbering bloodsuckers about a gigantic alien craft, which they very foolishly bring back to earth. Cue rampant chaos, global collapse and some extremely unsettling zombified makeup effects. Oh, and Patrick Stewart too. Grab the boutique Blu Ray if you can find it, I promise you there’s noting out there quite like it.

2. Paul WS Anderson’s Event Horizon

One of the spookiest and most infamous horrors ever made sees a salvage crew attempt the rescue of a missing prototype spaceship that somehow got itself into a black hole and brought back the entire Hellraiser universe with it. This one is unapologetically gory, over the top and filled with enough grisly images to make even die hards nervous.

1. The Alien Quadrilogy

I know I know, it’s cheating to give one spot on the list to four films but they really do feel intrinsically linked as one saga. Ridley Scott’s atmospheric, suspenseful initial shocker. James Cameron’s rootin tootin mercenary safari action blowout follow up. David Fincher’s deliberately unsettling, nihilistic prison flick threequel. Jean Pierre Jeunet’s ultra gooey, deadpan entry packed with ooze, one liners, character actors and deranged alien lore. They’re four very different films set against the same template and idea of this Xenomorph but honestly they are all brilliant in their own way and I couldn’t pick a favourite. The haunted, silent corridors hiding unseen horror that Scott gave us. Cameron’s lovable, rambunctious squad of colonial marines teaming up with Ripley and scene stealing Newt. The acrid, eerie penitentiary world Ripley finds herself clawing for life on in Fincher’s nightmarish vision. That horrific Butterfly alien hybrid and the original blueprint for Joss Whedon’s Firefly Space pirates led by Michael fuckin’ Wincott and Ron friggin Perlman in Jeunet’s funhouse of gore and dark comedy. Just so, so much to love.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill

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Thrill of the Hunt: Nate’s Top Ten Cop Vs Serial Killer Films

An obsessed, tormented renegade detective tracks down a disturbed, lone wolf maniac who kills innocent citizens for pleasure, compulsion and perhaps to agitate his pursuer and deliberately instigate a game of cat and mouse. This is an ages old motif that has permeated the thriller genre of Hollywood and beyond for eons, providing complex villains, self destructive protagonists, keen Agency profilers, blustery police captains, angsty mayors and no shortage of chases and carnage. Here are my personal top ten favourites!

10. Eye See You aka D Tox

This is commonly known as ‘that one shitty Sylvester Stallone film that no one saw, and I’ll be the first to admit it has its issues. However, I still enjoy it greatly, I love putting it on on a lazy rainy weekend day. Stallone plays a distraught big city FBI Agent whose girlfriend (Dina Meyer) was slaughtered by a vicious serial killer. After heading north into the mountains to a remote rehab facility for damaged cops (run by Kris Kristofferson no less) he soon begins to realize that the killer may have followed him there when people begin to turn up dead. This is a slightly cheesy, predictable thing but I really like the snowy Agatha Christie vibe and the cast is absolutely stacked with interesting talent including Tom Berenger, Robert Patrick, Jeffrey Wright, Stephen Lang, Charles Dutton, Sean Patrick Flanery, Robert Prosky, Chris Fulford, Polly Walker and more. But which one is the killer?

9. Scott Walker’s The Frozen Ground

Another snowy one, yay! This fantastic film follows Alaska State trooper Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage) as he hunts down nasty real life killer Robert Hansen (John Cusack, chilling) who abducted and killed countless girls back in the 80’s. This film is overlooked and works as a thriller, stern police procedural and affecting interpersonal drama. An eclectic supporting cast surrounds Cage and Cusack but the heart of the film for me is Vanessa Hudgens in a brilliant performance as a wayward teenage prostitute who winds up in Hansen’s crosshairs and eventually Halcombe’s protection.

8. Bruce Robinson’s Jennifer 8

There’s a killer loose in an eerie Pacific Northwest town and its up to big city detective Andy Garcia and local sheriff Lance Henriksen to stop them. This is one of Uma Thurman’s first roles as a blind girl who may be next on the killer’s list. Nothing groundbreaking here, but it’s tense, freaky and the rainy setting provides lots of dark groves and ominous alcoves where anyone might be hiding. Also John Malkovich shows up for like five minutes as some weirdo FBI interrogator and chews more scenery than the rest of his collective career combined.

7. E. Elias Merhige’s Suspect Zero

Not one you’d find on many top ten lists, but my aim with these blog posts is to shed light on unfairly maligned films or hidden gems that need a good dose of re-evaluation. Ben Kingsley plays a mysterious serial killer who is praying on other killers for murky reasons that relate to an ages old FBI program that tried to harness the power of clairvoyants. Aaron Eckhart and Carrie Ann Moss pursue him while stylistically fascinating filmmaker Merhige (remember Begotten?) gives an otherwise routine tale some stark, elemental visual horror elements that chill the spine, and Clint Mansell’s nervous score warbles on in the fringes of our awareness.

6. Harold Becker’s Sea Of Love

Al Pacino investigates a series of murders and gets into a sweaty affair with mysterious Ellen Barkin, who may have an involvement in the crimes. The killer here uses unique MO in luring people in via the personals section of the newspaper, which gives Pacino and partner John Goodman some hilarious ‘hands on’ stakeout opportunities. This is sexy stuff but the real danger lurking throughout is never smothered by too many steamy encounters, there’s always balance and when the killer does finally show up in person they’re played by a reliably scary familiar face.

5. Jonathan Demme’s The Silence Of The Lambs

This made waves upon release and holds up wonderfully to this day. Anthony Hopkins’s articulate, sophisticated Hannibal Lecter and Ted Levine’s perverse nut-job Buffalo Bill are still one of the most terrifying duo of killers to ever grace the same film with their collective presence. Jodie Foster ultimately steals the show as Agent Clarice Starling though and hers is a performance you get more out of each time you view the film, full of hidden hurt, dutiful observation and a keen survivor’s instinct.

4. David Fincher’s Seven

Kevin Spacey plays maybe the most heinous killer on this list and at least the most prolific and inventive in ways you’ll wish you didn’t see or hear. Weary veteran cop Morgan Freeman and eager rookie Brad Pitt are assigned to track him down, the hellish investigation inevitably leaking over into their personal lives. Atmosphere is key here and although Fincher never specifies where the bleak, rained out and despairingly lived-in city is located, one gets a darkly ardent sense of place all the same. Sheets of rain pour down, body after body is unearthed, each slain in increasingly gruesome ways and the uncanny feeling that the killer is just steps away haunts every scene like the constant darkness in the visual palette.

3. Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen

The killer isn’t quite human in this noir and supernatural tinged horror flick that finds homicide detective Denzel Washington searching for a killer who has resurfaced to strike again after being executed. Or has he? Or is it a copycat? It’s a conundrum that causes Denzel to question everything he knows and begins to wonder if this monster is something from another world. It’s a brilliant piece with burnished, gothic cinematography and lively supporting work from John Goodman, James Gandolfini, Embeth Davidtz, Donald Sutherland and a terrifying Elias Koteas.

2. David Fincher’s Zodiac

Score two for Fincher! Good on him, this is a sprawling, hyper realistic, meticulous examination of the murders that sent cops, journalists and civilians alike into a panic back in 70’s San Francisco. The film is constructed to follow the real life events as closely as possible and, as most already know, they never caught this guy which makes for a an eerie, dread soaked trip into paranoia and unease. Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo play the dogged, determined professionals who work tirelessly to snag this monster while Fincher expertly crafts some of the most flat out suspenseful, terrifyingly tense scenes ever put to film.

1. Sean Penn’s The Pledge

Jack Nicholson’s ex cop Jerry Black sits alone at a run down, remote Northwest gas station. There’s a haunted air about him as he rambles on to himself and if you’d just been led on the chase of a lifetime by an extremely elusive killer of young girls and then arrived at the excruciatingly unsatisfying conclusion he has, you might be a might frazzled too. Penn’s discomforting, unearthly film is a haunting meditation on obsession, what it does to a person, their choices and mental state when the ultimate result of a quest like this is essentially failure. Many were frustrated by the narrative but that’s where the real beauty lies for me. Penn beautifully illustrates a dark, oblique tale, Nicholson takes on one of his most challenging roles and wins the day, Hans Zimmer creates moody, atmospheric bliss with his score and the cast is peppered with exceptional talent including Benicio Del Toro, Robin Wright, Aaron Eckhart, Sam Shepard, Helen Mirren, Tom Noonan, Lois Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Costas Mandylor, Patricia Clarkson, Dale Dickey, Harry Dean Stanton and a sensational cameo from Mickey Rourke in one of his very best roles.

Thanks for reading! Please share your favourites in this interesting genre as well!

-Nate Hill

David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

If you think about it, the source material for a story like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is the perfect kind of thing for director David Fincher to have a whack at. It’s dark, kinky, and riddled with detailed clues, any of which could spell survival or a scary end for the two protagonists, and there’s an overall misanthropic edge as well. Not to say that Fincher deliberately picks dark, fucked up projects in his work, but there’s a definite gravitation towards the macabre, he has an eye for it. I love this film a lot, it’s among my favourites in his stable and I think he improved on not only the book by Stieg Larsson, but also made a better film version than the first adaptation. The original was serviceable but in a mystery like this I feel like atmosphere is key, and Fincher provides enough to get lost in. This is a story spanning decades, outlining years of dark deeds and unearthing secrets buried within secrets and as such it should feel eerie, ambient, be lit in ways that evoke the passage of time and have a soundscape that not only freaks you out but guides your focus and has you searching for clues right alongside the heroes. I feel like he definitely has those boxes solidly checked off.

Rooney Mara makes a more detached, colder Lisbeth Salander than Noomi Rapace’s hot blooded take and you could argue all night who was better in the role, but I don’t think that’s really the point. What matters is Mara is a fantastic Lisbeth, emotionally complex, seemingly shut off yet injecting pockets of warmth in where you least expect it and losing none of the caged animal or ruthless survival instinct that is so important to the character. Daniel Craig has the perfect jaded half smirk to play a guy that enters the story disgraced and surrounded by scandal, I think he rocks his role too and the chemistry between both is as tangible as the spooky Swedish ambience that Fincher turns them loose in. There’s a killer out there, one who has been operating with relative impunity for many years and right under the nose of the spectacularly dysfunctional Vanger family, whose industrialist patriarch (Christopher Plummer, excellent) enlists Craig’s help in finding the truth. His daughter went missing from their secluded island home some thirty years before as we see in dreamy flashbacks where Julian Sands steps in for Plummer. Craig’s Mikael and Mara’s Lisbeth are a pair of introverted workaholics who both come from rocky pasts and understand the kind of risk involved with this type of work, but neither are prepared for the brand of sick horrors that revolve around this mystery. Fincher carefully casts the film with impressive talent including Joely Richardson, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen, Goran Visnjic, Donald Sumpter, Embeth Davidzt, Alan Dale, Geraldine James and scene stealer Stellan Skarsgard as another key member of the Vanger family.

One of the most effective aspects of the film is the original score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, a subtle atmospheric composition that brings on feelings of dread, unseen danger and anticipatory anxiety wonderfully. As Craig’s car snakes along the long driveway of Plummer’s extravagant yet isolated mansion, a strange warble of tubular bell style music fills the snowy air, giving off incredibly creepy vibes and in turn giving me chills every time. Fincher cranks up the dial on violence and sex about as far as one could in a Hollywood film and as such you get some deeply disturbing scenes to sit through, especially involving Lisbeth’s deranged legal guardian, who really made me question the foster system in Sweden. None of it is glorified though and all serves to tell this dark story in the most affecting way. There’s a shadowy blanket over the film, everything seems frosty and frigid thanks to the cinematography from Jeff Cronenworth, as if there’s some spell of dark magic laying over the land and protecting those hiding within it as Lisbeth and Mikael race to find them. This is a perfect tale to get transported away by, a nightmarish yet strangely picturesque mystery to get lost in like a snowy night, until you arrive at the wrong doorstep alongside our heroes and then the real thrills begin. Great film.

-Nate Hill

David Fincher’s Panic Room

You know a thriller is gonna pack some torque when the opening credits are emblazoned boldly against the skyline of a huge metropolitan city. Well, not necessarily, but it’s a nice urban atmospheric touch, and David Fincher’s Panic Room employs the tactic before it unleashes an unholy, seriously suspenseful bag of tricks on Jodie Foster and her young daughter (an androgynous looking Kristen Stewart). Recently divorced and poised to move into an airy, gorgeous NYC brownstone, she quite literally walks into the perfect setup for a thriller that Fincher milks for all it’s worth and then some. As the real estate agent (Ian ‘Dick Tremayne’ Buchanan) theatrically informs her, this townhome comes with a fortified Panic Room, a steel box installation in which one may safely hide from any and all intruders. That safely part gets shot to shit when three burglars bust in on their first night staying there, and turn it into one of those real time ‘one long night from hell’ motifs. Aloof, slightly compassionate Forest Whitaker, sketchy, strung out Jared Leto and vicious psychopath Dwight Yoakam are a hectic mix, but the chemistry is there and they’re all freaky in their own way, like wayward trick or treaters who grew up and graduated into petty thievery. They’re after something that’s only accessible through the panic room, but Jodie and Kristen won’t let them inside, which prompts the ultimate siege game of cat, mouse and upper class NYC mom that goes into the wee hours of a typically rainy night. Fincher could be considered the crown prince of the big budget, R rated Hollywood thriller, and he absolutely goes for broke in every department here. He’s got two mad dog cinematographers in Darius Kondji and Conrad W. Hall, who prowl the apartment like panthers and achieve some truly great WTF shots, turning the home into an elongated nightmare of barren hallways, rain streaked bay windows flickering surveillance cameras. Musical deity Howard Shore composes a baroque, threatening piece that practically booms across Central Park and echoes through the adjacent skyscrapers before it whistles through the steel rivets of the panic room like the dangerous propane that Whitaker maniacally tries to smoke them out with. Originally written with Nicole Kidman in mind (she has a super quick cameo), I think Foster is a better suit for the role with her narrow eyed, breathless intensity and lithe, lynx like physicality. Things get satisfyingly brutal later on, with some shocking violence when mommy grabs a sledgehammer and starts bashing heads in. The suspense here is real, it’s tactile, tangible, earned tension, the kind you can’t just fake or stage every other scene without detailed setups to catalyze the payoff. This isn’t Fincher’s first rodeo, and he rides this thing in the captain’s chair all the way to suspense nirvana. One of the best thrillers out there.

-Nate Hill

20,000 Leagues of Cinema and Literature: An Interview with C. Courtney Joyner by Kent Hill

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C. Courtney Joyner is a successful writer/director/novelist. He was a zombie in a Romero movie, he hangs out with L.Q. Jones and Tim Thomerson, he was once roommates with Renny Harlin and made the breakfasts while Harlin got the girls. It makes me think of Steve Coogan’s line from Ruby Sparks, “how do I go back in time and be him.”

Truth is we are the same in many instances. We’re just on different sides of the globe and one of us is in the big leagues while the other is at the scratch and sniff end of the business. But we both love movies and fantastic adventures. We both wrote to the filmmakers we loved long before the director became celebrity. We both longed for more info from behind the scenes – long before such material was in abundance.

He grew up in Pittsburgh, the son of a doctor and a reporter. He came of age in the glory days of monster movies and adventure fiction. Then he headed west and after college it wasn’t long before his writing caught the attention of producers and thus a career was spawned.

Spending those early years working with Charles Band and his company, Empire, Joyner was prolific, and soon the writer became a director. All the while he was working on a dream project, a work we all have in us, that he was fighting to bring into the light.

It was a love of Jules Verne and the “what if” type scenario that gave birth to the early version of the story that would become his current masterwork Nemo Rising; a long-awaited sequel, if you will, to 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.

His story would go through several incarnations before finally reaching the form into which it has now solidified. Swirling around him were big blockbuster versions which never quite surfaced. Names like Fincher and Singer and stars like Will Smith were linked to these big dollar deals.

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Unfortunately even Joyner’s long-form TV version came close, but didn’t get handed a cigar. So at a friend’s insistence he wrote the book and his publisher, in spite of the property being linked at that time to a screen version that fell apart, agreed to still put the book out.

Thus Joyner’s Nemo has risen and at last we can, for now, revel in it’s existence. I believe it is only a matter of time before it shall acquire enough interest – and the new major playing field – the field of series television may yet be the staging ground for Courtney’s long-suffering tribute to the genius of Verne and the thrilling enigma of a character known as Captain Nemo.

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Long have I waited to chat with him and it was well worth the wait. So, here now I present my interview with the man that director Richard Lester (The Three Musketeers, Robin and Marion, Superman II)  once mistook for a girl that was eagerly interested in film.

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . C. Courtney Joyner.

 

Conceptually Speaking: An Interview with Sylvain Despretz by Kent Hill

 

Sylvain Despretz really is the personification of honnête homme. And he has been a man of the world since an early age. Travel was a part of his life; the other constant being his love of the cinema.

He is an artist of great style and skill and after his schooling he worked as an art director for a top Madison Avenue agency then moved on to illustrating Graphic Novels in California under the mentoring of the internationally famed artist Moebius. From there he would set out upon what would become and astonishing career as a story board artist and conceptual designer.

 

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His work you’ll have seen, gracing the screen in a myriad of films in a variety of genres. Movies like Gladiator, Alien Resurrection, Panic Room, The Fountain, (Tim Burton’s) Planet of the Apes and The Fifth Element. These including work on Don’t tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead and the coming Luc Besson sci-fi extravaganza: Valerian. He has worked with  and on films directed by the true masters of the screen including Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

But, as you will hear, Sylvain has become disenchanted by the current repetitive nature of Hollywood’s cookie-cutter output. He is now driven by the notion that the only way to usher in change, is to be part of a creative revolution that places an emphasis on original voices instead of corporate responsibility.

 

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To this end he is now embarking on a journey that will see him stepping away from the drawing board and moving behind the camera; bringing his own visions to life using that mysterious blending of industrial light and storytelling magic.

He is a learned Hollywood veteran who has seen the Dream Factory from the inside, and his stories and wealth of knowledge and experience was and is fascinating to experience.

The designer behind the scenes and the future man in the director’s chair, proud am I ladies and gentlemen to present this interview with the one and only, Sylvain Despretz.

VISIT SYLVAIN’S OFFICIAL SITE:

http://www.metaprogram.net/

“I am very sure that’s the man who shot me.”: Zodiac 10 years later – by Josh Hains

The idea of offering up a defence for David Fincher’s Zodiac seems rather silly given that ten years later it’s widely regarded as perhaps Fincher’s greatest film, often revered as one of the finer films released over the past decade. We all know it’s great, though admittedly, I didn’t know that for several years.

I avoided Zodiac like it was coated in radioactive slime until 2014. I had heard a great deal of positive things about the movie, and had been greatly intrigued by the marketing behind it, but the knowledge that not only was it was a long, slow paced movie, but also a rather unsettling one too kept me away for so long. When I did finally give it a chance late September 2014, my mind immediately gravitated toward Google, scouring through page after page of information about the investigation in an attempt to better understand the finer details of the case, and come to my own conclusions about who the Zodiac killer may have been. My gut however, felt like I’d eaten a bad take out meal, disturbed, shaken, and stupidly hungry for more. I felt like how I imagined Robert Graysmith felt all those years ago, minus the fear, paranoia, and impending danger of course.

That David Fincher populated Zodiac with such a great cast is a marking of a great director who knows how to compile actors who will treat the characters as individuals and not just caricatures. I find it intriguing and perhaps even ironic, or merely coincidental, that Jake Gyllenhaal starred in last year’s underrated thriller Nocturnal Animals, given that in Zodiac he is essentially one. His Robert Graysmith is a nocturnal animal, an increasingly gaunt, wide eyed mouse sniffing around for a piece of cheese, in this case the next tangible clue or lead worth obsessively investigating. And it’s all thanks to his unshakeable love for puzzles, a factor that helps decode the first Zodiac letter. As he digs deeper into the case, we come to fear for his safety, in particular during a genuinely white knuckling scene in which the unarmed and unimposing Graysmith ventures into the basement of someone we begin to assume might put an abrupt end to Graysmith’s life.

Before the blockbuster splash that was Iron Man in 2008 thundered into the film scene, one could have argued that Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as the San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery was the best he’d ever given. An argument can be made that while he was seemingly born to play the billionaire tycoon and saviour of the planet Tony Stark, his best work still resides in the fractured Avery. The deeper the investigation gets the further Avery seems to slip from cool as a cucumber journalist to a paranoid, spineless slob.

Prior to his self induced exile on a houseboat, I got a kick out of the scene where he joins Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) for drinks at a populated watering hole, chugging back those luminous bright blue Aqua Velvas while rambling about the case and their personal lives. There’s a great sense of both humour and humanity in that scene, as Avery lets his guard down and actually engages with someone beyond a superficial relationship, while Graysmith sheds his mouse-like internalized mannerisms in favour of energetic, loud behaviour, though briefly. From this point forward however, Graysmith has a spine, albeit a rather loosely fitting one, and Avery has seemingly lost his, donning “I am not Paul Avery” buttons in the hopes of fending off potential threats. He’d have made a wonderful Doc Sportello.

And of course, there’s San Francisco detective Dave Toschi played with a real sense of respectable authority by Mark Ruffalo. Toschi, an Animal Cracker snacking family man, and the inspiration behind both Steve McQueen’s preferred method of wearing his service revolver in Bullitt, and Dirty Harry’s iconic law breaking detective Harry Callahan, can’t seem to figure out how to put the pieces together in the Zodiac case, understandable in light of the overwhelming amount of contradictory information at hand. Under Fincher’s direction, Ruffalo portrays Toschi as a driven yet logically minded detective. He remains dedicated for years to catching the Zodiac, but lacks the desperation and paranoia Graysmith possesses. Instead, Toschi approaches every aspect of the case with the kind of logical thinking and reasoning every detective should be in possession of, following procedure by the book, and generally doing everything he can to crack the case until the psychological burden becomes far to heavy to bear. You can see how heavy sits in his mind by Ruffalo’s subtle body language in later parts of the movie, and you soon feel sorry for the guy.

Near the end of the film, Graysmith declares “I need to stand there, I need to look him in the eye and I need to know that it’s him.”, desperate to prove that Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch; perfectly unnerving and subtle) is indeed the cold blooded killer. He gets his wish a short time later when he encounters Allen at an Ace Hardware store in Vallejo where Allen works as a clerk. Allen offers his assistance to Graysmith with a polite “Can I help you?”, Graysmith responds with a “No.”, the two men simply staring at one another until Graysmith leaves, Allen thrown off by Graysmith, and Graysmith appearing much more certain that Allens is the man they’re after. The movie moves forward eight years to when Mike Mageau, survivor of the Zodiac killer at the start of the film, meets with authorities to potentially identify the Zodiac killer, positively identifying Arthur Leigh Allen as the man who shot him and killed Darlene Ferrin. While many had their suspicions and some evidence pointed in his direction, Allen died in 1992 before he could be questioned. Not that he would have confessed anyway.

Admittedly, I have intentionally left out many details and characters, with no disrespect intended, and it should be said that every actor involved in this film, from the leading performances to the smallest of cameos (for exmaple, Ione Skye of Say Anything as Kathleen Johns, a woman who was threatened in her car by the Zodiac killer), give world class performances, some even the best of their careers to date. And the script by James Vanderbilt, based on books by Robert Graysmith, is an achievement of impeccable research and respect for the case. And the cinematography  by the late Harris Savides is bar none the greatest work the man had ever crafted, richly capturing everything with immaculate detail, from the lush valleys of California and its busy, inviting cities and streets, to the Aqua Vera drinks, to beams of red light emanating from police cars. He painted a gorgeous picture for us to gawk at for years to come.

Ten years later, I find it astonishing that Zodiac never truly ends like other movies do. Most movies tie up every loose thread with a ribbon to go with it, others leave room for potential sequels. You can’t end a movie when their is no resolution in reality, forcing a tacked on Hollywood ending wouldn’t sit right with anyone in possession of a brain. You can only leave the audience with the next best thing, the assurance of a living Zodiac victim that the man in the picture they’re pointing to is indeed the man who shot him. That Fincher was bold enough to choose this manner of ending his film shows us he’s a director capable of unsettling viewers long after the film ends, without needing to manipulate his audience or present alternative facts. Zodiac is a bona fide masterpiece, the crime film equivalent to All The President’s Men, and just as good too.

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