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By Matthew Sorrento | April 11, 2008

Doom shrouds every moment of this concise, thrilling little piece. An investigative young woman (Leah Dashe), carrying a box of evidence, approaches the home of an elderly lady. The former seems to realize she’s about to open Pandora’s Box, and no wonder she’s named Lulu and has the uncanny look of Brooks. The elderly woman, Hazel Reedy (played by golden-age starlet Marsha Hunt, now 90), has a knowing presence all along, while her visitor’s curiosity starts veering toward panic. Lulu has brought with her books in which cyphers and symbols were written, and the collection leads back to Hazel’s house, in which Lulu believes once resided the Zodiac.

One passage Lulu found is from a story in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. This parable, with a title shared by the film, depicts the Second Coming interrupting the Spanish Inquisition. Going head to head with Christ, the Grand Inquisitor says the church no longer needs him and then damns him for bringing hope to a hopeless race long ago. Writer/director Eddie Muller makes a brilliant connection to this classic Russian tale and America’s notorious, undiscovered assassin. The Zodiac’s motive was to destroy peace though terrorizing not just specific victims, but a whole nation under the media’s grip. An Inquisition came to America as a national panic; and now Lulu’s inquiry is met with a growing pall.

If you read the film’s clues and know your cinema history, you’ll spot the ending – but expected or not, it comes as a cathartic flourish of the macabre. Chilling revelations beforehand make it an unavoidable conclusion, one which presents a complex, rewarding theme. This tale is told with the brevity, unity, and control of a well-made short story, in which form the novelist Muller first fashioned “Inquisitor.” Muller films his two-character confrontation within a closed space, and the confinement of the home draws down upon the viewer. A soft haze on the screen creates a chilling, dreamlike feel – at times we wonder, has “Lulu” returned from the grave? Our wonder is fueled by a point of view that may not be so reliable, a conceit used since Poe, but very fresh here.

This short screened at the 2008 Philadelphia Film Festival after the kooky late noir piece, “Blast of Silence.” But as “The Grand Inquisitor” began, we soon realized we were drawn away from crime conventions and entering a brilliant exercise in American Gothic.

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