When former music video director David Fincher made the shift from making promos for the likes of Madonna, Sting and George Michael – most famously Vogue and Englishman in New York – he seemed determined to get away from the kind of 80s pop music camp with which he’d previously been associated.
His first big Hollywood flick was the decidedly unpleasant Alien 3 – the one where Sigourney Weaver finds that humans can be just as bad as the Aliens she’d been battling in the previous two films, if not worse.
Though audiences largely stayed away and many critics were, well, critical, it seems that Fincher at least enjoyed the unpleasantness, for his next big movie was to wallow in it even more – and in the process help to invent a new film genre.
The 1995 serial killer flick Se7en took the grosser aspects of 1991’s Oscar-winning The Silence of the Lambs and cranked it up a notch by setting the action in one of the gloomiest visions of the real world seen in a mainstream Hollywood movie for years. In the process, he helped redefine Brad Pitt’s career, catapulted both Kevin Spacey and Gwyneth Paltrow into the A-list, and, in the graphic depictions of the tortured victims of Spacey’s psycho killer, helped to create a new horror movie genre, now punningly known as “gorenography” and epitomised by the likes of Hostel and the Saw franchise.
However, despite going on to make the competent thriller The Game and the revolutionary modern classic that was 1999’s Fight Club, since 2002’s disappointing Panic Room we’ve not heard much from Fincher at all. Now, however, it looks like he’s back with a vengeance – first with this Se7en-like serial killer flick and then, next year, with the intriguing Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett-starring The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which could well be one of the most interesting films of 2008.
But first things first – Fincher’s returning to the old ground of Se7en and, for the first time in his feature film career, seems not to be trying anything new or radical. How does Zodiac hold up?
Well, the one ongoing theme in Fincher’s movies to date has been the nature of human psychology, and how we deal with situations that we can’t quite comprehend. Every single one of his feature films to date has had this central idea running throughout, and Zodiac is no exception. Based as it is on the true story of the hunt for the “zodiac killer”, a serial killer who murdered at least five random victims in 1960s San Francisco, leaving cryptic clues that have yet to be deciphered, this is firmly back in Se7en’s world of twisted genius psycho playing with the press and police who are trying to hunt him down.
The end result, though not quite up to the levels of Se7en or Fight Club, is certainly a nice little thriller, with a strong cast that includes the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr, both currently doing some of their best work.
It’s a highly absorbing mystery, and played to near perfection – showing just what we’ve been missing during Fincher’s hiatus. Now that he seems to be back making movies, fans of quality and originality in cinema should all breathe a sigh of relief. Roll on Benjamin Button!