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Friday, May 11, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Zoo" a strange, sad look at local horse-sex incident

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review2 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Zoo," a documentary by Robinson Devor.

76 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (no one under 18 admitted).

No film comes to Seattle with greater baggage this year than "Zoo," Robinson Devor's strangely elegant examination of the infamous incident outside Enumclaw in 2005.

Surely you know at least the general details: A Seattle man died of internal injuries after having sex with a horse at a rural farm, which was later found to be the site of regular gatherings of zoophiles, or, as they call themselves in this film, zoos. The incident, news of which spread like fire on a dry field (it was this newspaper's most-read online story that year), had consequences: numerous jokes and snickers, and a quickly passed antibestiality law in this state.

If everyone who read or e-mailed news of the story goes to see "Zoo" in theaters, it would be a box-office hit. But that seems unlikely for this unique and very odd film, a semidocumentary that uses voice-over and dreamy, dimly lit re-enactments — and which seems crafted for an audience who may not exist.

Those seeking explicit footage or representation of the incident will be disappointed (though a fleeting, blurry video clip, visible for an instant, leaves little to the imagination); those wanting a factual examination of the case won't find much of one in the film's loose meanderings; those wanting the film to come out strongly for or against sex with horses won't be satisfied.

And though "Zoo" does well to remind us that this story is a tragedy involving a real person's death, it isn't able to bring the unnamed man out of the shadows. He was a Boeing engineer and a divorced father; other than these bald facts, we learn little about him as a person. The main people interviewed for the film — three other members of the informal group who gathered at the farm, whose faces and real names are never shown and who speak in flat, sad monotones — don't seem to have known him very well. These were loners, drawn together by what they describe as a shared love of animals, and what most people would describe as something else.

"I don't need a high level of emotional interaction," says one, explaining his affinity for animals. Another (maybe the same one: In the film's many voice-overs, it's often difficult to tell who's speaking) compares his love for animals to the love another man might have for a spouse and child. In his mind, it's the same thing; it's a terribly sad statement.

"Zoo" gives these men room to explain themselves, but the result only raises more questions. (And some unintentional humor, as a zoophile and ranch hand wonders plaintively why he lost his job after the incident came to light, "just because I loved the horses.")

Devor, the talented director of the lyrical Seattle drama "Police Beat," here again collaborates with co-writer Charles Mudede and cinematographer Sean Kirby, the clear hero of "Zoo." The film's beautiful outdoor images create a seeming Eden, with shots of whisper-pale rhododendrons gleaming in the twilight, or endless variations of green in the fields, reaching toward the setting sun.

It's often breathtaking to look at, accompanied by lush music, but it contributes to a reverent, hushed mood that seems to suggest more importance than it delivers. Was this Enumclaw event, no matter how many people sought it out on seattletimes.com, deserving of this much attention, aesthetically presented or no? You leave "Zoo" puzzled, wondering why this private story of a lonely man necessitated this much art thrown at it.

"Zoo," despite its elegance, teeters on a tightrope; by relying primarily on words from men who seem reluctant to talk much about what happened, it ends up having little to say. Horse rescuer Jenny Edwards (who collected the farm's horses after the incident came to light) says of zoophilia at the end, "I'm on the edge of being able to understand it." Those who've seen only "Zoo" may not be able to say the same.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725

or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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