[As about one in every three reviews of this film seems likely to begin:] In July of 2005, a Seattle-area executive for the Boeing corporation died from a perforated colon sustained during sexual congress with an Arabian stallion, an act which the deceased, known to fellow self-described “zoophiles” as “Mr. Hands,” performed regularly (and often videotaped). With Zoo, a contemplation of the incident, director Robinson Devor and his writing partner, Charles Mudede, anticipate an audience poised to respond with derision or outright condemnation; they assert their empathy boldly, juxtaposing voice-over testimonials from zoos who knew Mr. Hands with portentous music, verdant location photography, and heavily filtered, often slow-motion reenactments suggesting Errol Morris’s The Thin Blue Line done underwater. If you start to nod along with the zoos’ assertions of deep emotional rapport with their equine companions, it’s a tribute to Devor’s artistry, and to cinematographer Sean Kirby’s Terrence Malick-quality facility with the lush greens of the Pacific Northwest (“paradisiacal” was the word Devor used in a recent Cinema Scope interview).
But — at the risk of planting a whoopee cushion in the confessional — one wonders if Devor’s lyricism isn’t, finally, a bit excessive: the Edenic yearning of the imagery seems, in context, hyperbolic; scenes suggesting Mr. Hands’s deep workplace discontent, which explicitly posit horse-fucking as a reprieve from the anxieties of the military-industrial complex, are especially regrettable. Devor’s hands-off treatment of his plaintive, ambiguously adjusted interviewees makes a cannier case for complexity. Poetry, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, may communicate what can’t be understood, but perhaps the lonely men at the heart of Zoo would have been better served by a more modest craftsman.