They say that this was the year of deviant sex films at Sundance, and such was the case with a little documentary entry called "Zoo," whose title is a shortened take on zoophilia — as in, people who don’t just like animals, they love animals.
It’s a jaw-dropping subject for a film; what’s more shocking is that "Zoo" not only aims to be a gateway into understanding this sub-sub-community of unusual fetishists, but does so by examining a real-life case of small-town bestiality in which one man died after an encounter with a horse.
Without going into too much detail, suffice to say that while "Zoo" obviously means well — the filmmakers try to humanize, rather than sensationalize, their subjects — the film itself is a bit of a snoozer. And a messy snoozer at that.
Director Robinson Devor has access to two of the zoophiles involved but, since being blasted in the media following the 2005 death of their friend, neither appears on camera. Instead, using voice-over narration and codenames like "Coyote," the men’s stories are shown via melodramatic recreations (one man runs through a field to hide a bucketful of homemade horse porn in slo-mo) that evoke the cheesiness of TV crime-show docudrama. Beautifully shot on location on a rural Seattle-area horse farm, these sequences are dreamy and meditative — oftentimes too much so, to the effect that instead of connecting to the otherwise inexplicable motives of the deviant men, the audience becomes lost, bored, and (in my case) sleepy.
Adding to the confusion is a handful of poor choices by Devor that further muddle any connection, or understanding, of the people involved, the man who died, and why they felt so spiritually connected to their animal partners that a sexual connection was the next logical step. The worst offense is the inclusion of an interview with an actor identified as "Cop #2." He gives an earnest, but terribly inappropriate and irrelevant, meandering personal story about how death is bad — then, cut to the next scene, and we see him play police in a laughable reenactment scene.
Ultimately, we’re left baffled and bored — though the cop scene does provide an unexpected laugh and, for the record, there are two brief flashes of said home videos to satisfy any morbid curiosity.
As of this posting, four other reviews have trickled in for "Zoo" (all Fresh) that laud the film for expanding/challenging the tropes of the documentary format ("Devor and his accomplished crew expand our concept of the documentary film," writes The Hollywood Reporter’s Kirk Honeycutt).