Because you just can't know too much about horse sex, filmmaker Robinson Devor and his writing partner Charles Mudede, who collaborated on 2005's critically acclaimed narrative film Police Beat, have joined forces once again, this time to tackle the difficult task of exploring the death of a man who had sex with a horse. The idea for Zoo came from a real news story: In July of 2005, in the town of Enumclaw, Washington, outside Seattle, a man died of a perforated colon as a result of having sex with a stallion. The case was widely reported on both within Washington and around the world, and as a result bestiality, or sex with animals, was made illegal in Washington.
Prior to the death of this man (whose identity was protected by most Washington media, who referred to him only by his online moniker, "Mr. Hands," the name under which he posted videos of himself engaging in sex with stallions), sex with animals -- while not something that most people who engaged in would go around talking to their friends and neighbors about -- was perfectly legal. Mr. Hands and his friends in the zoophile community (and really, I could have lived the rest of my life without knowing much as I know now about this particular form of sexual deviancy) weren't doing anything wrong, strictly speaking.
The background story -- a man who died as a result of engaging in anal sex with an Arabian stallion -- was the subject of a good deal of dark humor of the sort that tends to proliferate around any behavior that makes people feel very uncomfortable. It was almost easier, in the first days after the news of the "horse sex case" first hit the Seattle newsstands and airwaves, to joke about the horse sex without thinking too much about the real person whose life had ended as a result of his foray into bestiality. Devor, to his credit, takes the high road here, staying far away from the path of seeking humor in the death of this Seattle father.
Seeking to understand the mindset of the zoophile community, Devor takes us into their world, through re-enactments and interviews with the two men who dropped Mr. Hands off at the hospital that night. Although they left quickly, they were caught on a security camera and tracked down; once their association with the Enumclaw horse sex case came to light, their lives were forever changed. It gets a little confusing keeping up with who's who in the zoophile group -- after a while they all tended to kind of blend together into one amorphous "why?" -- but even so some of the things said in the interviews are at least interesting, if not entirely illuminating.
At times, though, the interviews border on the downright bizarre -- one man asserts that his love for his horse is no different than a man's love for his wife or a parent's love for a child. In another bit, a man (perhaps the same man?) waxes eloquently on how he doesn't find it easy to communicate with people and how his encounters with the horses work for him because they don't require interaction with another person. Ironically, at the time of the case, this man could have been arrested for paying for consensual sex with another adult man or woman, but having sex with a horse, who couldn't consent even if he wanted to, was perfectly legal. Alas, no more.
Zoo, much like Police Beat (a narrative film pieced together from some of the more bizarre Seattle true-crime stories from The Stranger) is more a visual poem and homage to the physical beauty of Washington than a strictly structured revisiting of the events in question. Devor's' style as a filmmaker is visual and almost impressionistic, and he seems as enamored of the beauty of the landscape and the snow-capped volcano hovering protectively over Enumclaw as he does by his subject matter. He tends in his filmmaking to blur the line between documentary and drama, and that's certainly the case with this film.
The pace of the film is languid, and there are some bits that just don't work, like a lengthy bit about midway through with some guy sitting on a stool in front of a perfectly white background, who talks for an interminably long time about ... something to do with a drowned boy and death in general, or something. Other bits are (I think) unintentionally funny, like the re-enactment of the guy running out the door with his ... large bucket of animal sex porn. Because if you have a stash of animal porn around the house, where else but a bucket would you store it, right?
There's some speculation over how exactly Mr. Hands could have died as a result of what had always before just been an evening of good, clean wholesome fun. It was a new stallion that he didn't know that well, one of the men speculates, or perhaps his "handler" was inexperienced at, er, facilitating the act. Perhaps the saddest part of the story, excepting, of course, the death of Mr. Hands, is the fate of the stallion who committed the fatal perforation. He was gelded in order to prevent him from being adopted by another member of the "zoo" community. Seems a little harsh to emasculate the poor horse over the whole affair. After all, he's a victim, too.