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TH!INKFilm presents
Zoo (2007)

"So, at some point I said, "is this a bestiality case? Is that what you're trying to tell me?"
- Jenny Edwards

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: October 10, 2007

Stars: John Paulsen
Other Stars: Tom Gormally, Russell Hodgkinson, Ron Carrier, Coyote, Ken Kreps, Richard Carmen, Conor Gormally, Malayka Gormally, Michael J. Minard, Paul Eenhoorn, Jenny Edwards
Director: Robinson Devor

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mature subject matter, language)
Run Time: 01h:15m:45s
Release Date: September 18, 2007
UPC: 821575552653
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- BB-B A-

DVD Review

Zoo is Robinson Devor's rather daring documentary that recreates the sensational case of a Seattle-area man—known enigmatically as Mr. Hands—who bled to death after engaging in sexual intercourse with a horse, and investigates inner workings of the like minded, tight-knit group of zoophiles, or "zoos." The case itself received large, splashy media coverage when it occurred in 2005, due in large part to a very graphic video that allegedly showed the fatal act, which circulated quickly on the net, though Devor retains an artistically Errol Morris-ish quality to the way he chooses to describe the events.

Avoiding the usual talking heads approach to documentary filmmaking, Devor meshes real-life and re-creations by having a mixture of actual participants and actors move through a series of beautifully shot sequences that patch together a glimpse at their secretive lifestyle. The issues of morality are more or less left in the borders, as Devor doesn't necessarily praise or condemn, but chooses to showcase the community of zoophiles as men bound together by desires that were not clearly defined by state laws, though clearly residing on the far-flung fringes of acceptable societal behavior.

In the accompanying DVD commentary, Devor and writer Charles Mudede chuckle at the thought of this being labeled a "pro-bestiality" film; instead they consider it more of an honest attempt to simply hear the other side of a subject. Devor and Mudede go so far as to admit to not being won over or agreeing with the zoophiles actions, yet the presentation in Zoo does an admirable job of trying to provide glimpses of the men involved, their thoughts, and their treatment of the animals.

Appearing to borrow stylistically from the likes of Errol Morris and David Lynch, Devor and cinematographer Sean Kirby render the Washington countryside into an alternatingly lush and shadowy environ, with rarely a scene (no matter how mundane) looking in any way ordinary. Light and shadow are used to great effect, married with a haunting score from Paul Matthew Moore that gives Zoo an often surreal and dreamlike texture. Things like the gelding of a horse or even a walk through town take on a striking sense of composition, giving this the feel of a feature film moreso than a documentary.

For such an edgy, mature subject, Devor's doc is not a visually graphic bit of sensationalism. There is, however, a brief scene of the police playing back what is supposed to be the video of the sex act that eventually killed Mr. Hands, though it is only seen in brief glimpses. That's about as close as this one gets visually to anything dark, though sometimes graphic discussion of the zoophiles activities does take place.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Zoo has been issued in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, though the back cover refers to it as "anamorphic full frame." Devor's purposely stylized approach to storytelling comes across well, with a combo of dark shadows and minimal lighting. Colors are rich, especially the dominant blues and greens, and the transfer is free of any major dirt or debris, with just a moderate amount of periodic grain.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in 2.0 stereo. Nothing terribly noteworthy, but overall a solid, ordinary track that provides clean voiceover narration and a pleasing, deep canvas for the score of Paul Matthew Moore. It's a largely front-centric presentation that works well for a documentary feature, without offering anything overly expansive.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring In The Shadow of The Moon, The Trials of Darryl Hunt, Ghosts of Cite Soleil, Shortbus, Tideland
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Robinson Devor, Charles Mudede
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Aside from five assorted previews lumped into something called a Trailer Gallery, the only other supplement is a commentary track from writer/director Robinson Devor and writer Charles Mudede. As far as commentaries go, this one is a neat fit as an addendum to the film, with Devor and Mudede discussing the methodology ("interpretive not inventive") of compiling what is referred to as a very "untraditional documentary," from using a mixture of real-life participants and actors to tell the story to working to avoid presenting this as a typical talking head doc.

Mudede provides a verbal schematic of how the storyline was constructed, while Devor sounds genuinely concerned to not have allowed Zoo become something too garish or pulpy, keeping in mind that the people involved all have (or had) lives and families. The track fills in some narrative blanks as well, something that the stylized nature of the doc itself is less direct about.

The disc is cut into 12 chapters, with optional English subtitles.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

A very controversial subject is handled in a highly stylized manner, as writer/director Robinson Devor mixes actors and real-life participants in the shadowy, almost lyrical retelling of taboo cross-species sexual practices. Certainly not for everyone, yet Devor paints the narrative without praising or condemning those involved.

Conceptually disturbing but beautifully constructed.

Recommended.

 


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