Thursday, February 22, 2007

Zoo (Devor, 2007)

Strangely enough, Robinson Devor’s Zoo, a documentary that tackles the subject of a small group of people devoted to amorous interactions with horses, is not a bad movie for the reasons you might think. It is bad for reasons that are utterly banal. It is unfocused, poorly edited, meandering, tentative and tonally inconsistent. Understandably, Devor met considerable resistance when attempting to find people willing to talk on camera about their roles in a barnyard sex party that left one man dead. Unfortunately, his solution to that problem does not make for viewing that is compelling, or particularly instructive.

Using various audio interviews, Devor uses a mix of actors and real subjects to stage recreations of the events leading up to the night in question. Participants leave their homes and travel by planes, trains and automobiles to Enumclaw, Washington, invariably looking wistfully out the window as if pondering some great existential truth that is beyond our comprehension. The things we learn about these men are not surprising: they hooked up through the internet, they have family and friends who love them, they feel persecuted by anti-bestiality laws, they believe that they are animal lovers (not harmers) and that their partners are willing participants.

When they arrive at the house that serves as a meeting place, they make some mixed drinks to set the mood, as Devor shoots them in dark shadows in order to emphasize the underground nature of their activities (as if this was necessary). Since the voices of the participants is essentially all we hear and never in synchronicity with their image, the overall effect is that we are largely unable to distinguish this documentary from a straight-faced put-on. Devor’s intent seems to be to find the humanity in a group of people who have received only ridicule; however, Zoo brings us no closer to understanding this phenomenon or the people involved. There are no insights offered from psychologists or other authorities who might have been able to help us provide some context, nor do the filmmakers themselves venture into the discussion with any sort of explicitly expressed opinion.

However, Devor does find the time to have one of his actors (the man playing the tiny role of Cop #1) tell a long, barely related story about how he was with a young girl when she died and had the opportunity to look death in the face. Presumably this digression is to remind us that the man who died left behind people who loved him even if he engaged in bizarre sexual behavior and that we should have some compassion for his fate. Why Devor felt that his audience might need this particular reminder is unclear. As it stands, the scene feels suspiciously like a filmmaker padding his runtime to ensure he reaches feature length.

In the end, Zoo fails miserably not because of its subject, but because of its execution. Watching it, I found that I really did want to understand and have some insight into this predilection that seems so appalling to me. What needs does it fulfill? Where does the desire start? How has the taboo been handled throughout history by various cultures? Unfortunately, Devor has not accumulated enough information and has grafted what information he does have to recreations that seem inspired by equal parts Unsolved Mysteries and Emmanuelle. Tedious, clumsy and amateurish, Zoo is wholly unprovocative.



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