Vern is sympathetic to those in ZOO - the yearnings, the love... the bestiality.
Published at: Sept. 10, 2007, 8:12 p.m. CST by headgeek
ZOO, directed by Robinson Devor, is a movie you might've heard of when it played Sundance last January. For some reason it had a very limited theatrical run, it was not really given the same chance a SPIDER-MAN or a SHREK would get to catch on with the public, but fortunately THINKFilm releases the DVD September 18th.
I really liked Devor's first movie THE WOMAN CHASER. That one, COCKFIGHTER and MIAMI BLUES are the only movie adaptations of my favorite writer, Charles Willeford. Patrick Warburton is so good playing a bored used car salesman turned desperate embezzler/nihilistic independent filmmaker that I have a hard time not picturing him as the lead in other Willeford books as I'm reading them. I can't recommend that movie enough, but unfortunately it's never been released on DVD, and good luck finding the VHS.
What I didn't know when I saw that one was that the director was somewhat local. He apparently splits his time between L.A. and Seattle, where with local writer Charles Mudede he filmed his second and third movies, POLICE BEAT and now ZOO. Based on a true incident in the small town of Enumclaw, ZOO is mostly set in the outlying rural areas of the Puget Sound region, the camera floating dreamily through barren farms, glimmery blackberry bushes and beneath ominous cloudy skies. But the central character, called "Mr. Hands," works as an engineer for Boeing, so there is some footage of him on a balcony looking out on Seattle proper, the home of John Wayne's McQ, Bruce Lee's grave, me, and I guess Frasier. The cinematography by a guy named Sean Kirby is excellent, and he shows Seattle not as a postcard of the Space Needle, but as a menacing explosion of buildings springing from the earth between water and mountains. This is my Seattle, this is how the city should be shown.
Oh-- except for one thing. I forgot to mention. (SPOILER.) This is a movie about horsefuckers. Or I guess horsefuckees, if you want to get technical. The plight of the horsefucked. Requiem For a Guy Fucked To Death By a Horse, pardon my French. I'm trying to be a gentleman here but if there's a polite way to say "fucked to death by a horse" they never taught me that one in school.
You know, when a daddy and a special horse love each other very much-- No, sorry, I just don't know how to do it.
So in that sense, no, it is not the most positive portrayal of the region. Speaking for myself only I would say that the guy getting fucked to death by the horse was not one of the prouder moments in local history. Your mileage may vary. I don't know what the governor's stance is on it or anything but that's just me, I'm against horsefucking.
You know how they have those different quarter designs they're doing for each of the 50 states? I thought it would've been pretty badass if Washington State had had the balls to put Bruce Lee and Jimi Hendrix on our quarter. It would've been EASILY the coolest quarter and all the other states would've been jealous. Instead we just did a picture of a fish jumping out of water, which kind of bummed me out. But in retrospect I should be happy we didn't go with a guy being fucked to death by a horse. That would've been an embarrassing quarter.
Anyway, maybe they should've lied and set ZOO in Chicago or San Diego or somewhere. I've lived in Seattle for years and the only horses I've seen were ridden by cops. I have never ONCE seen a horsefucker. So don't get the wrong idea. This is not representative of Seattle. It's all on Enumclaw. Horsefucking capital of the west.
ZOO is an unusual centaur type hybrid of documentary and re-enactment. The entire movie is narrated by audio interviews of the actual people involved in the incident, the horsefucked as well as the horse rescuer who was called in to figure out what the hell to do with a horse that fucked a guy to death. She loves horses too, but in a platonic way. There was another recent documentary narrated by tapes of Kurt Cobain, but they had to do that because he died. In this case they had to do it because nobody's gonna invite cameras to follow them around talking about having sex with animals. Well, probaly for a VH-1 reality show but not for an independent film.
The filmatists cleverly avoid going in the obvious directions. It's not really a freak show or a shockumentary. They even tastefully avoid the goldmine of uncomfortable black humor that faces, say, the hospital workers who have to slowly piece together why this patient has a perforated colon and why the guy who brought him there took off in such a hurry. I read an interview with Mudede click where he mentions some pretty funny things that were left out of the movie, such as the horsefuckers talking about rejecting a potential new horsefucker because he was "a total freak," and also them complaining about the low quality of their home farm sex videos. So there is some real restraint here. Anybody can make jokes about horsefucking (see: this review) so it's actually more shocking for the filmatists to go the other way. I honestly think they're trying to get a rise out of you by being tasteful.
Like anybody (I hope), when I heard this story I could not even imagine what the hell kind of person does that shit. It's hard to even picture them as human beings, let alone regular people you might encounter in your daily life. Some weird scary Michael Berryman looking redneck out there in Enumclaw, maybe. But the movie depicts Mr. Hands, the dead guy, as a city boy. He's a successful engineer in Seattle, the re-enactor is fairly handsome and usually shown wearing a tie. He's divorced, but has stayed close with his ex-wife and is very proud of his son. In fact, he's trying to bring the family together, and his ex-wife and kid are in town visiting at the time of his death. Which is pretty befuddling - he's entertaining guests but he finds time to slip over to Enumclaw for a poke from the ol' giant animal schlong? It's weird how the more details you fill in the more mysterious it becomes.
But the animal molesters are humanized, and the photography even makes them kind of glamorous. The camera slowly pans around, focusing on the poetic imagery of the setting, often shrouding their faces in shadow like characters in a film noir. They meet at a diner and go by their internet handles like "H" and "The Happy Horseman." They could almost be RESERVOIR DOGS, except their crime is a little less understood by society than stealing diamonds and shooting people. They point out that bestiality was not a crime in the state of Washington until after this incident. I think they saw that more as progressive legislation than as an "oh come on, nobody's gonna do that" type loophole. They just see themselves as a bunch of guys who like to hang out together on a farm, make some drinks, talk about their lives, and then maybe on a good night go out and, uh, let the livestock mount them.
It's so non-judgmental, in fact, that one guy, "Coyote," was willing to play himself in the re-enactments. (The horse rescuer and some of the other non-animalfuckers do the same.)
I'm not sure if I can say I LIKED this movie, but I thought it was very well made and morbidly fascinating. I thought there were only two real fuckups, really. At one dramatic point in the movie they suddenly cut to a dude sitting on a stool in front of a white background, telling a story directly into the camera. You think "Holy shit, is this one of the actual guys? Who is this guy? Why is he willing to be on camera?" He turns out to be the actor who plays "Cop #1" in the movie, and he talks about getting the part and then tells an unrelated story about seeing a kid die. I appreciate trying out a weird idea like that, but it doesn't work, they should've cut it. Worse is a short burst of pretentiousness at the end of the movie where they throw in some quick shots of explosions and some guy whispering about math as Mr. Hands wanders naked into the horse field. That's kind of the pretentious bullshit I expected when I read reviews of how "poetic" this movie is, but really that was the only part where it was too much for me. (I even liked the opening psychedelic light show that turns out to be somebody's flashlight or something.)
You ever see that Onion article about Marilyn Manson going door-to-door trying to shock people? That's sometimes how I feel about Charles Mudede, who is credited with "story and research" for ZOO. Mudede has written for The Stranger (the less corporate of Seattle's two free weekly tabloids) since 1999, where he reviews movies and does the Police Beat column that inspired his movie of the same name. I've read a few pieces I really liked by him, but alot more that I hated. His main interest seems to be to provoke people by coming up with some completely preposterous angle on the subject that would never occur to any other human being. In his reviews he makes any legitimate insights useless by tying them to some historical, philosophical or literary context seemingly picked out of a hat or by rolling Dungeons and Dragons dice. In movie reviews you never have to agree with the reviewer, but you probaly do have to see where they're coming from. If we can understand horsefuckers in a movie we should be able to understand the writer of a review. When friends of mine first started noticing and complaining about Mudede I honestly believed that his reviews were a put-on, that they could not possibly be serious. His thoughts on almost any topic would somehow be related to the traditions of ancient societies, a line from the communist manifesto, Russian literature or some other topic he studied in college.
Take for example his review of Takeshi Kitano's BROTHER click , where he dismisses it as "Kitano's weakest film yet," then launches into what appears to be a comical parody of New York film critic jerkoffery: "The next gem worth noting is the matter of Kitano's Hegelianism. Hegel was a 19th-century German philosopher who believed that human history had basically three stages: primitive (African societies), despotic (Asian societies), and democratic (Europe). BROTHER presents this order of history, but now in the form of a gangster class order..." etc. etc.
Over the years Mudede has toned down some of those "hey everybody, look at me!" tendencies. But that doesn't stop him from semi-regular reviews like this one, where he pretends to find meaning in BRATZ click .
It can't be denied that ZOO is in some ways an extension of that kind of obnoxious college-professor-meets-Tom-Green approach to expression. What could be more "you gotta be shitting me" than a movie that hints at being pro-bestiality from behind the hypnotic drone of a haunting arthouse documentary? Fortunately, the movie is put together really well and there is a bit of a switch up near the end, where we move from the perspective of the horsefucked to that of the horse rescuer. When she shows up at the ranch with the dead man's brother she describes meeting one of our narrators who was "very obviously deeply involved" and who she saw as a "creepy child molester type." Then we hear the guy she's talking about bitterly complain that the rescuer "doesn't know her ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to horses." (oh for God's sake, use the hole in the ground this time. Please, horsey, fuck the hole in the ground.) But it's kind of a relief to be violently yanked from the lull of the poetical horse lovers POV and back into the world of the poor suckers who had to suddenly find out what had been going on on this ranch. (One scene depicts the grey-haired owners of the horse throwing up after sitting with police watching a video of the incident.) And I'm sure audiences must've gasped when the miniature pony ran in and... well, you'll have to see it.
What is the value of exploring the guy who was fucked to death by a horse? I'm not sure. It is probaly more of an, uh, interesting story than an important one. They show how the internet brought together a community of freakos that never could've existed in the old days. Reminds me of the time I accidentally found out about adults who wear diapers and pretend to be babies. Or the guy that gets off on photoshopping the gals that dress up as Pocahontas and Cinderella at Disneyland to make them look giant. I don't care if you like to make out with lobsters or suck on jump ropes, whatever sicko garbage gets you hard you can make a club for it on the internet. For these guys it's all those popular sex with cattle blogs that brought them together. And once they are no longer alone in their secret shame, but are part of a secret shame club on Yahoo, they start getting big ideas. I don't think they ever specifically mention gay rights, but they try to paint their plight as similar. They argue that they have a pure, simple, primal love with these animals, one that we who have chosen to keep our assholes free of horsecock cannot possibly understand.
(Incidentally that reminds me, shoulda mentioned this earlier but no kids should be reading this review. Go to bed kids this is grownup talk.)
So it brings to mind that old anti-gay rights argument "if you allow people of the same sex to get married then some dude will want to marry his dog/horse/box turtle." I always thought this was a funny comparison. Number one, two men - let's say Dolph Lundgren's character in BLACKJACK and his faithful assistant - happen to be of the same species, and they can communicate with each other. That is not true of the fictional guy (we'll call him "Turner") that is gonna make an honest woman out of his dog ("Hooch"). Number two, you REALLY honestly think some guy is gonna try to marry his dog? Or, say, a gorilla who knows sign language, if society demands that they must be able to communicate? He's gonna bring his ape into the courthouse and apply for a marriage license? This, in your mind, is a likely scenario? Well, okay then dude. How bout we cross that bridge when we come to it?
I am tempted to delete that last paragraph just to avoid the worst talkback of all time, but that would be dishonest. This is definitely a topic the movie directs you toward. I'm guessing at least 60-70% of you are with me, and are against horsefucking. But the movie forces you to ask yourself why, question your instincts. Which is uncomfortable but it's not a bad thing.
And one conclusion I came to is that, despite what they say in the movie, these guys don't really believe they made a soulful love connection with these animals. They just like to have giant horsecocks in their butts. The reason I know this: they literally have buckets full of homemade bestiality videos. You even (horrifyingly) see a tiny glimpse of what I assume is the real video of the fateful incident. And we're not talking Andrew Blake here. We're not even talking One Night In Paris. They just shine a light on a guy's ass and do a closeup as he's being slain by a giant horse dick. They are not in love, they get off on it, they like watching it, they know other guys who will watch it on the internet. That is not a mature relationship there, fellas. Blackjack would never do that. So their argument is pretty phony, it's a rationalization. In my opinion.
That was pretty brave, wasn't it, how I took a stance against horsefucking just now. That's just what I do man I make the tough calls.
One diabolical thing they do in the movie, they play some talk radio clips over some of the footage, and one of the clips is of Rush Limbaugh disagreeing with the animal rights activists who said the horse didn't consent. So Limbaugh becomes the voice of the pro-horsefucking movement. I think they should use that in the advertising and turn it into a political issue:
"No matter which side you are on, you gotta see ZOO for yourself. It's the movie everyone is talking about. See it for yourself and make up your own mind on being fucked by a horse!"
ZOO is about the furthest thing from what you imagined when you first heard about this incident. It shows the whole thing from a completely fresh angle. But there is one thing I thought when I first heard the news story that this movie only reinforced: I am not going within ten miles of any horse, ever. Get the fucking things away from me. I don't care if it's Seabiscuit or Mr. Ed or a heroic horse who saved orphans and piloted the first manned (or horsed) mission to Mars. I don't even care if it's a girl horse or a eunuch horse. All horses are bad news. I might even stay away from glue and dog food for a while.
If any horses are reading this: NO means NO.
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