Eric D. Snider

Zoo (documentary)

Movie Review

Zoo (documentary)

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: C-

Released: April 25, 2007

 

Directed by:

"Zoo" is one of the more interesting failures to come out of the Sundance Film Festival this year. It's a documentary on a highly unusual topic, and that topic is explored in an unusual way -- to the detriment of the film, which would be of more interest if it were more straightforward.

The topic: sex with horses. Specifically, it is the story of a Washington man who died in 2005 as the result of injuries sustained while enjoying some adult time with a stallion. You are forgiven if you assume the film will be taking a less-than-serious, Darwin Awards sort of approach to this. Surely a man being horsed to death calls for levity.

But director Robinson Devor, making his first documentary after a couple of fictional features, has taken a different tack. "Zoo" explores the taboo world of animal lovers and takes a dreamy, ethereal tone. There are artful and evocative re-enactments -- no, not of THAT, but of the dead man's associations with fellow zoophiles and of their non-sexual interactions with horses. Interviews with his friends are conducted in moody lighting while meditative music provides the underscore. This is a SERIOUS movie.

The man himself is not named in the film; he is identified only by his Internet handle, Mr. Hands, out of respect for him and his family. (The man's name was Kenneth Pinyan, and he was an engineer at Boeing.) He is not a sideshow attraction, you see. That's what "Zoo" wants us to understand, and to that end, the film spends very little time on the actual events of the night on which Mr. Hands died. The focus instead is on his circle of friends, and what brought them together.

Does the film also want us to accept zoophiles and their animal-sexing ways? It at least wants us to understand them, and the mood of the film is often downright elegiac, as if we are mourning the loss of a way of life. Mr. Hands' fellow horse-lovers' deeds were exposed in the aftermath of his death, and their secretive friendship may be broken up. For Devor and his co-writer, a journalist named Charles Mudede, this is a cause for serious reflection on the nature of "taboos" and why sex with animals falls into that category.

Except that the movie doesn't really discuss anything. It uses images and sounds to create impressions of ideas, leaving any actual, concrete assertions off the table. You will be more enlightened in discussing the film with friends afterward than you will be by the film itself.

Devor's insistence that Mr. Hands' death not be a laughing matter means he must treat all the interview subjects seriously, even when their statements beg to be giggled at. A man known only as H decries the shunning he received when his secret life came to light: "We were friends for all these years, and now all of a sudden I'm no good because I love the horse?" I'm sorry, but that's funny.

Or this, dismissing someone's lack of equine knowledge: "She doesn't know her (butt) from a hole in the ground when it comes to a horse." And you think: You know, if Mr. Hands had been confused about that, he'd be alive today.

I'm sorry, but that's FUNNY.

It's laudable that Devor went a different route with his documentary, and it's beautifully photographed. But I think anyone wanting to see this story on film will be looking for a different kind of examination of it, something more straightforward and nitty-gritty. We don't need to see Mr. Hands mocked, necessarily, but let's talk in open, honest terms about what happened and what led to it. "Zoo" is unusually classy, but it's also ponderous and boring -- which is something I didn't think a movie about a man who died from having sex with a horse could be.

Grade: C-

Not rated, probably R for somewhat explicit sexual discussion, some nudity

1 hr., 20 min.

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This item has 13 comments

  1. Kenneth Persing says:

    Thanks for an even review. I first saw the article about the movie in the NYT, on April 1, and couldn't decide if it was a hoax or not! KP

  2. E.D. says:

    "something more straightforward and nitty-gritty"

    If you wanted to see something more straightforward and nitty-gritty, then download the freaking clip of Mr Hands getting a wild "ride." Sheesh.

    Really, the lack of intellectual merit just escapes me. First and last visit to this site.

  3. Innocuous says:

    E.D.? As in Mr.?

    I suppose I can understand where your anger is coming from - I mean, we've all heard the rumors about your special relationship with Wilbur - but I think you misunderstood Eric's point. He didn't want to see graphic footage of your fellow equines getting it on with humans. He simply wanted the director to be more honest about the details of the life of a person who "loves" horses.

  4. stephkitten says:

    soo....if the lack of intellectual merit escapes you, doesn't that mean that there IS intellectual merit?

  5. Dark Pope says:

    No, it means that he doesn't understand why Eric D Snider's writing lacks intellectual merit. Of course, the problem with this statement is that it was made without any supporting evidence or arguments against Snider's actual review (if it weren't for the brief quote in the beginning, that post could be affixed to any essay anywhere). It's kind of like me saying, "Nyah nyah you suck!!!" and pretending that I was arguing from an intellectual position.

  6. stephkitten says:

    Right, but if you read that carefully, the fact that the LACK of merit ESCAPES him implies to me a logical double negative, meaning that there would be some intellectual merit. I'm sure he meant to say something like "the lack of intellectual merit just astounds me"....totally different meaning.

  7. manstermagic says:

    The reviewer writes: "The man himself is not named in the film; he is identified only by his Internet handle, Mr. Hands, out of respect for him and his family. (The man's name was Kenneth Pinyan, and he was an engineer at Boeing.)"

    I haven't seen this movie and just stumbled on this review- I don't know if the film is bad or good, nor do I care. But, revealing this man's name in the review so pointedly seems to be only to subvert the referenced respect to him and his family and that is just plain malicious. There's nothing remotely journalistic or necessary to the critique in revealing the man's identity and it's pointlessly cruel to any remaining family.

    Ugh, it makes me angry to think this guy Eric would do that for no reason other than some self-serving smugness.

  8. Mark Brown says:

    The line about how a little confusion might have spared Mr. Hands his life makes me giggle out loud every time I read it. Thanks for that.

  9. LaDawn says:

    Eric's attendance at a film festival does not give him any special insight into the identity of zoophiles. I believe that Eric is making a point that trying to protect the identity of Mr. Hands was a futile attempt at respect, since anyone with a meager knowledge of google and internet searching could find the details Robinson Devor pointlessly decided to leave out of his documentary.

  10. Matt Stump says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Snider. This film begs for frivolity. I managed to stay awake log enough to catch some great quotes, though. Something along the lines of "If you get close enough to a horse, eventually it's going to happen. Eventually it's going to put it's head on your should, and then, there you go." (not quoted verbatim). I could see this movie being on Mystery Science Theater, and actually being entertaining.

    I was far more amused by reading this review, and seeing E.D. slamming Eric Snyder, and then just as I'm thinking, Ed(?) The next post by Innocuous catching the Mr. Ed reference. I wonder if Mr. Hands was a fan of Mr. Ed?. Good Stuff!

  11. Deekly says:

    Hands down, I applaud Mr. Hands. His actions are the ultimate expression of individuality. This is a fine film that should be shown in all middle and high schools across the country, as the lessons imparted by this story would present attractive livestock oriented lifestyles for future generations.

  12. John says:

    Okay so hands down i do not applaud Mr. Hands. Yes "his actions are the ultimate expression of induviduality". But lets [consider in gross detail the logistics of it, omitted here by the moderator] and then lets ask ourselves if Mr. hands made a good decision, or if he had it coming. Because if you want to have it with a stallion, that is not restrained, (meaning its not going to stop because he hurt you), its going to [etc., etc., more graphic detail] when hes done with you. I don't mean to insult anyone but this is my opinion and I hope you find it helpful.

  13. brooke says:

    i just watched this movie tonight. all i could think about was the poor abused animals and what there life must have been like?.mr.hands and friends had it comeing karma is a bithch for the gross things that happened there the hole farm should be burned.in hopes no one will ever hurt a animal again ever.shame on mr. hands and company what kind of sick people are out there? iwas just shocked by the whole thing period.

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