Sundance 2015 Review: ‘Zipper’ Whips Out the Thrills

Zipper is an intense exploration of desire and obsession that respects the complexity of human motivations. It’s too easy to judge. That would result in a preachy movie. Plus, it’s just more fun to watch grown ups doing bad things. 

Sam Zeller (Patrick Wilson) is a successful lawyer contemplating running for congress. When he deposes a professional escort for a trial, he becomes curious about it and goes to see one while his wife Jeannie (Lena Headey) and his son are away. Then he keeps going back. 

The first escort scene shows compassion as she tries to help Sam get comfortable and clean. It may be wrong, what he’s doing, but it’s still not easy. And it’s hot in the discovery of a new partner, and the cheating and not getting caught. Sam’s return home to a supportive happy family provides a contrast to his misdeeds that only increases its tension. There’s even a red herring or two for the potential consequences, but what’s really in store for Sam is more intense. 

By the time Sam starts visiting the catalog of escorts, we’ve been sucked into the reality of his world. He’s been trying cases and spending time with the family and working out, so introducing a bit of deviancy elevates the story to a dangerous threat level. It’s not quite a paradigm shift because it was going here all along, but that real life intensity builds up to a montage of deceptive activity. Sam spirals into desperation and writer/director Mora Stephens makes us feel it. She’s crafting a thriller where the values we profess to live by prove unsustainable. It’s this year’s Gone Girl.

Neither Sam nor the film are condemning escorts at all. They’re both fascinated by escorts and how this operation works. Sam’s sex with his wife is hot too, so it’s not a matter of sharp contrast. It’s more about a void in Sam’s soul that no amount of variety could fulfill.

Headey is ferocious and Wilson nails the conflicting values brewing within Sam. It’s easy to say you love your family but you can’t help yourself, but that sounds douchey. Showing proves better than telling, and in watching Sam you are fascinated by his motivations, as much as we may be confused by good people doing bad things or evil people showing signs of good. 

There is some really juicy stuff I don’t want to spoil but it all relates to character behavior. It may be oversimplifying to say I was rooting for Sam to get away with it. It wasn’t that I wanted him to be vindicated, but following his obsession to depth after depth was just too wild a ride to see it cut off by something like morality or consequences. So rest assured, Zipper doesn’t stop before it goes all the way there. 

I definitely want to see more from Stephens. Her ability to take a genre like “adultery drama” and show us something new is electrifying. She crafts a tone that’s as subtle as a slow burn but as energizing as an action movie. Zipper is the grown-up thriller of the year. 



Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.