In 2005, during an average day in the rural Washington town of Enumclaw, Kenneth Pinyan lost his life. A death from internal injuries (a "perforated colon"), Pinyan's unusual case led to an investigation, taking law enforcement officials into the world of "Zoophilia" and the culture of men who claim to love animals so much, they engage in sexual acts with them. "Zoo" is a semi-documentary not necessarily probing the Pinyan case, but the harmony of the fixation and the fallout.
It goes without saying that the issue of zoophilia is an alarming one to even consider, much less make a feature-length documentary about. It's a controversial subject, asking the audience to take a moment to try and comprehend the mental faculties that would make a human being feel any sort of sexual attraction to an animal. It's a thorny endeavor, yet "Zoo" is made so sharply and with such a striking amount of care that it's actually able to approach this topic without setting off any sensationalism sirens.
"Zoo" isn't a documentary with stiff talking head interviews intercut with grainy file footage; it's a more fluid odyssey employing actors to recreate the peaceful life in Enumclaw to better value the breach of silence that occurred when Pinyan's story broke big time in the media. Director Robinson Devor keeps the focus off faces and behavioral details to paint a broader picture of dreamlike serenity, peeling back the layers of average everyday people to explore their insular outlook and hidden desires.
It's an intoxicating piece of filmmaking, not from the curious way it approaches the subject matter, but more the way it calmly progresses into the psyche of these men. "Zoo" doesn't offer up many cold, hard facts about the case, and the actual threads of plot that run throughout the picture have a nasty habit of becoming easily tangled when Devor quickly switches focus, but when the picture is at its best, there's an eerily oily gloss to it that's both sickening and undeniably fascinating; the viewer can't help but be drawn into this web of perversion, revulsion, and liberation.
Cinematographer Sean Kirby deserves special notice for the way he captures the naturalistic side of the story. The unofficial co-star of Devor's film is Washington and its vast reservoir of scenic wonders. Kirby works overtime to recreate the isolation men like Pinyan felt with the object of their affection and the violation of the neighbors who trusted the community's unofficial code of honor. "Zoo" is often working with meager dramatic servings to build this story, but Kirby's camera is always focused on the landscape, creating a strikingly surreal, communicative motion picture out of an impulsive subject matter.
Avoiding a graphic snapshot of Pinyan's demise (there's a video of the incident, but not shown here), "Zoo" is more consumed with carefully lowering the viewer into the zoophile world for a better consideration of the state of mind these men share about their lifestyle. It's not a cheery film to watch, but there's an unexpected beauty and distance to "Zoo" that makes it easier to comprehend, if not understand, how this culture considers itself.
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