Zoo

2007, Movie, R, 80 mins

Review

ZOO
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After two stylish fiction films (THE WOMAN CHASER, POLICE BEAT), Seattle-based filmmaker Robinson Devor makes his astonishing documentary debut with this bold and unforgettable meditation on a truly bizarre incident that pokes at the very heart of one of our culture's biggest taboos: the 2005 death of a Seattle man several hours after being quite willingly sodomized by a horse.

On July 2, 2005, a divorced, 45-year-old Boeing executive who'd been spending the weekend at a friend's farm in Enumclaw, Washington, was anonymously dropped off at the area community hospital. Not long after, he was pronounced dead from what was determined to be acute peritonitis due to a puncturing of the colon; the cause of the perforation was anal penetration by a horse. Police traced the car that left the man at the emergency room to a nearby farm, which turned out to be a gathering place for a small group of men who, like the deceased, repeatedly sneaked onto a neighboring ranch to have sex with horses, and often filmed themselves in the process. The technical term for the sexual attraction of a human being to an animal is "zoophilia" — practitioners refer to themselves as "zoos" — and as unfathomable as the practice may be to most people, Devor takes a page from the ancient Roman comedian Terence, who famously declared "nothing human is alien to me." Through interviews with "zoos" and other people involved with the incident, Devor attempts to find a way inside the mindset of people who are to all appearances entirely normal, but secretly desire sexual contact with animals rather than human beings. Using disembodied voice-over narration, dreamlike lighting, a hypnotic orchestral score, and moodily staged silent dramatizations that feature both actors and several real-life participants, Devor creates a spooky, impressionistic docudrama about loneliness, isolation and desire turned deadly. From the opening shot of a distant light at the far end of a mine shaft, the film unfolds as a dark journey into an unexplored corner of the psyche that remains keenly aware of the utter tragedy of it all. Unlike the sensational news reports and sniggering radio commentators heard on the film's soundtrack, Devor never loses sight of the fact that a man died and left behind a young son to shoulder the legacy of his father's bizarre death. (Though the deceased man's real name was eventually widely reported, Devor never uses it; he only refers to him by his online moniker, "Mr. Hands.") Interestingly, the moral center of the film becomes a horse-rescue advocate named Jenny Edwards who, repelled as she was by the whole affair, needed to know what happened and why. Her own subsequent research into the abyss leaves her "on the edge of understanding," and this remarkable, haunting film will leave you feeling very much the same way. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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