LFF Review: Zoo

Zoo: Directed by Robinson Devor

Some subjects, although seemingly interesting documentary fodder are always going to be difficult to watch when they’re committed to celluloid. Certain things are just genuinely difficult to digest, other things are ultimately not as interesting as the filmmakers thought they would be and some things… well…they’re difficult to take seriously, no matter how balanced and serious in tone a documentary may be. ‘Zoo’ a snapshot of the lifestyle of a Seattle man referred to by his internet moniker ‘Mr Hands’ who died from internal bleeding due to “interaction” with a horse falls heavily into the latter category.

It’s 10.30 on a Wednesday morning and I’m rushing to get to the press screening at the BFI of ZOO, it’s an internal struggle because on one hand I hate missing the beginning of films.. but on the other hand I’m rushing to see a film about zoophilia, a difficult topic to be presented with at the best of times. I’m sure you can see where I’d have problems. I’d read a few reviews of ‘Zoo’ before sitting down in the theatre and was aware what I was about to see was tastefully treated, and if nothing else, a film I should be able to say that I’ve watched.

First off, the striking thing about Zoo before you even touch on the uneasy subject matter is that the film is beautiful. Like stunningly beautiful, I don’t know what kind of cameras they used or who the cinematographer was… but the film really is gorgeous to look at. The story is told through audio interviews with all the people involved in the ‘incident’ and it’s aftermath while the visuals are recreations of what the subjects are describing. It’s an interesting style for a documentary to adopt but meant the scenes I was being presented with were separated from the less-than-glamorous reality that the voices are discussing. In the end it made me feel that what I was watching was at best a vacuous video experiment or art exhibit.

The audio interviews are interesting and provide more insight than the ponderous and over-stylised moving images ever do. It’s fascinating to hear different takes on the whole subject; including talking to the family of ‘Mr Hands’, the police that dealt with the aftermath, hospital staff that looked after the man, and his internet acquaintances that were present on the farm where it took place. The problem lies really in the lack of people who were willing to stand up and talk about it.

While obviously not an easy thing to talk about the interviews seem to skirt the actual issue of zoophilia. The ‘zoos’ talk about it in very general terms of being ‘close’ to the animals, and ‘loving’ them more than most people. With a subject as Taboo and unthinkable in most peoples minds as zoophilia, you’d think a film that explores such a notorious incident and even just the idea in principle would have more to say about the actual idea of ‘interspecies-relations’. Of course the subject matter is a delicate one but the kid-gloves the film uses to handle the issues it raises, and its refusal to draw any conclusions from the facts it gleams, means it falls flat.

It’s easy to see that ‘Zoo’ wants to be taken seriously as a film, and it never presents any of the people that are discussed in the story in a mocking or exploitative fashion, but the cold fact is these guys trained their individual horses to have sex with them. Admittedly the outcome of the entire affair is saddening but when you have audio sound bytes like “sometimes you just wanna hold a horses balls in your hands, you know?” paired with artistically shot horses in misty landscapes it was honestly difficult to stifle my childish snickering, and trust me, I wasn’t alone.

I’m not sure what I expected from a film about a subject such as this, and while I did gain some small insights into their world the film really didn’t educate me or teach me anything new about the subject of ‘zoophilia’. The film is beautiful to look at but feels too much like a fantastically produced art installation and not the exploration of an unusual sexual taboo I wanted to see and be educated by. The very idea of zoophilia is so shocking, that by trying to tackle such a subject in a sensitive fashion means the film just comes across as shy and restrained and therefore slightly derisive.

Zoo is playing at the London Film Festival, check the details here

2 Responses

  1. I can relate to this movie, as I am a zoosexual. I am part of the group of people, found all over the world, who are attracted to animals both physically and emotionally. I feel I was born this way, and have had this attraction as far back as I can remember. These last 12 or so years with the internet, has brought others like me together, as evident from this movie. We know that we are not alone in our feelings. We are now part of a “zoo” community. I feel, that because of the death of Mr. Hand’s, as tragic as it was, has opened up a window in our world for others to see, that is not consistent of how things really are for most of us. These people did engage in risky behavior. I am gay, with humans BI with animals, and also an equine zoo. I have been active with mares, and stallions, but would not consider having intercourse with a full size stallion because of such a danger. There are other activities such as masturbation and oral sex that is still beneficial to both partners, but does not carry that risk of internal injury. I also believe that there was no “animal cruelty” that is talked about with such an incident, because this stallion was only doing what was natural to him, and he enjoyed it, and thought Mr. Hands was just another mare. This man caused his own death. Zoosexuals are in all walks of life. We are educated, as Mr. Hands was, and some of us do not have a formal education. We are not “dumb farm boys” that can’t get a date. We prefer animals to human sexual partners. We can have emotional feelings towards our partners, too, along with the physical part… I would say most of us do fall in love with our mates. I was with a mare for 10 years, until her death of old age. I still love her, and miss her terribly. I feel as I lost a wife. I am 55, and she was the only one in my life, animal or person, who made me feel so complete, both physically and emotionally. With other zoos I have talked to, the same kind of thing is true with them too. This movie is about 1 extreme case, and extreme behavior. Another tragedy because of this accident, is the actions of the law in this case. After the incident, everyone was looking around for a “law against such things” “We need to stop such this.” Are we trying to protect the public, or the animals. Mr. Hands engaged in intercourse with this stallion, knowing the danger. He has to take responsible for such an action. The stallion was only doing what is natural. In my opinion there was complete consent there. Both sides agree. The outcome was very tragic yes, but will passing a law prevent future things like this from happening? I do not think so. All that the law did is put all the zoosexuals in the state of WA. In a class of criminals instantly.

    This movie has opened a door to our world. in a positive way, by being neutral. We would like to have our story told about the love and dedication we have for our mates, how we understand through their body actions, about their giving proper consent. This movie about such a tragic happening just may open things up for discussion about what zoosexuals are really about. We are not “animal rapists”, and we don’t all film ourselves having sex with stallions.

    The selective breeding process that is normally done, (and accepted) is in my opinion, is closer than rape than anything. In some cases, the animals do enjoy the event, but in most cases the female is tied, and shackled, while the male completes the breeding. I for one have never abused an animal in my life. The act of being intimate with them is done with respect and tenderness with the feelings of love for my partner. This is the very same thing that is involved with human to human intimacy. My mate is not tied or held down, and participates freely with consent (by her actions not words). I can’t help my feelings, and when I get around horses, dogs, and cows. I am very much aroused, and that makes them aroused as well. It is not uncommon for these animals to start to give me all the positive signals, and in some cases initiate the encounter. They are very sensitive to feelings and Pheromones as well, so without any stimulation, they can get quite provocative. I can show affection to a mare, some kisses and closeness, and she can respond with the desire to be intimate on the spot. Quite often it can become embarrassing. But that of course shows that they have no shame or do not think anything is wrong. I have to ask……why is ok to kill an animal, and sell its parts to the public for food, but if we make that animal feel good sexually, then we are put in jail for animal abuse.
    They talk about consent…. where the consent from the animal to say… yeah…is” it is ok to brutally slaughter me after a few months of my life. I hope that this film will lead to better understanding of zoosexuals, with future projects, and documentaries.

  2. Hail America! Hail West!!
    We poor and aspiring masses spread around the planet are waiting to follow your footsteps, because it is general rule for the less privilged to follow what the successful ones, blessed with or struggled to it, does.
    Hail you guys for what you all have contribute to the World.