2006Director: Robinson Devor
Cast: Russell Hodgkinson, Ken Kreps, John Paulsen
t’s the World Wide Web and its message boards that facilitated the congregation of Mr. Hands (John Paulsen), H (Russell Hodgkinson), and Coyote (identity protected), Later, Mr. Hands met and made love with a horse that punctured his stomach, and subsequently died. If not for the Internet, the authorities wouldn’t have investigated, they wouldn’t have discovered Mr. Hands’ secret community, and bestiality wouldn’t be a class C felony in the state of Washington.
Zoo examines the secret lives of several men who preferred the companionship of horses to humans, both emotionally and physically. Filmmaker Robinson Devor uses a combination of personal testimony laid over dramatic re-enactment and interviews of various individuals affiliated or involved with the Mr. Hands incident to investigate why humans feel a sexual attraction toward animals (known as Zoophilia), what zoophiliac desires entail, and how a private and extremely marginalized community in rural Washington can go from being virtual unknowns one minute to the talk of the nation the next.
Considering the subject matter of the film combined with how excited people at Sundance got about it, I expected Zoo to be a lot more…engaging and devastating than it actually is. It seems Devor was truly committed to attacking this flick with an unbiased gaze, thereby allowing the audience ample opportunity for brain mastication, time to digest the material, and hopefully to develop their own opinions. Devor’s intentions are incredibly courageous and noble. Tackling a movie about a group of emotionally isolated farmers who rationalize why they have sex with horses is, I would imagine, no easy task, thanks to all the confusing emotions imbedded in the material.
And yet, something about Zoo is dishonest. For, as hard as Devor tries to maintain that non-judgmental gaze and humanize the zoophiliacs, the aesthetic of the film is incongruent with the thematic intentions. Very tender and bone-chilling testimony from H explaining his profound love for his horse is juxtaposed against ridiculously melodramatic slow-motion footage of persecuted farmers as they sprint across muddy farmland beneath a stormy sky, trying desperately to escape the pursuing sheriff who screams, “HORSEFUCKER!” Get it? It’s like, one hand offers us a grounded perspective, while the other assaults us with a barrage of hyper-histrionic images diametrically opposed to the farmers’ “We’re humans too” testimony. The duality is confusing, distracting, and just might drag you away from the story.
I think that, ultimately, the most intriguing element in a film comprised of a maze full of mysterious intentions, emotional isolation, and deeply guarded secrets is how all these guys got together in the first place, and how they first came to terms with their bestial or zoophiliac predilections. At the start of Zoo, Coyote explains his previous life trapped in the vast farmlands of the American Midwest, cut off from any kind of diversified experience in a nearly hermetically sealed world where things rarely change. In 2002, Coyote first uses the Internet, and it opens him up to a completely new world. He can go anywhere he wants, speak with anyone he wants. He doesn’t have to worry about being judged. For the first time, he finds a community of individuals who love their horses as much as he loves his. If these guys would have maintained an electronic relationship, they might never have been ousted, and bestiality might still be legal. Instead, they broke the #1 chat room rule and agreed to meet in the flesh. In a film about isolated loners, it’s sort of ironic that The Community was their downfall, and it’s sad to think that maybe certain things are best kept private and confidential.
Zoo is currently playing in limited release.
By: Frank Rinaldi
Published on: 2007-05-08