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HUMAN ZOO (2020)

Directed by John E Seymore
Written by John E Seymore, John D. Crawford, from an idea by Selfin Morose
Starring Robert Carradine, Jose Rosete, Rachel Amanda Bryant, Jessica Cameron, Megan Le, John D. Crawford, Heather Dorff, Robert Catrini, Kristyn Evelyn, Raw Leiba, Trista Robinson, Edward Hong, Jordan Mitchell-Love, Loren Ledesma, Ally Holmes, Robert Damian, Christie Beran, Kelli Stoner, Melanie Troxler, Lucia Oskerova, Brialynn Massie, Patricia Ashley, Alfonzo McCarther, Jeremy Szymankowski, Ruby Handler
Find out more about this film here!

HUMAN ZOO is an experimental indie film about a reality show that lures contestants in to put themselves in solitary confinement with the bait that the winner will win one million dollars. A colorful group of people are chosen for the first season, said to be broadcast to the world via the internet 24 hours a day. After interviews are given and bits and pieces of personality are revealed at the beginning, a chosen few are taken aside, told to shower, given a new set of clothes, and placed in a small concrete room that will be their home for as long as they can stand it. Everything is filmed from a camera in the top corner of the tiny room and they are provided with a yoga mat, a bucket, and daily rations of food and water. Given a safe signal to display when they have had enough, the contestants are eager to get started and already picking out things they are going to spend their million on. But the group doesn’t know what they are in for, as they are pushed to their mental and physical limits and soon find out that no matter what they say or do, they aren’t getting out.

HUMAN ZOO is more of an exercise in patience than what you and I know as a usual narrative. The group of actors are all put in the exact same situation–alone in a room, and it’s up to them to entertain simply by being themselves. The camera switches from cell to cell, but basically HUMAN ZOO is an almost two-hour film focusing on people slowly going crazy. If this were an educational video, I would call HUMAN ZOO successful as it really is patient and thorough with the slow descent into the abyss each player goes through. The camera angles rarely switch, but it is each character’s physical and psychological breakdown that proves to be interesting. I’m curious about films that depict the descent into madness as it needs to be gradual yet interesting enough that it isn’t boring as hell. And while HUMAN ZOO does make things somewhat entertaining to see who cracks first and how, I think the runtime, the number of contestants, and the banality of much of the film is going to turn off a lot of viewers.

HUMAN ZOO isn’t a jump scare laden spook-fest. It actually reminded me of Gaspar Noe’s CLIMAX in structure as we are introduced to a large cast through interviews and then we see all of them go mad in their own specific way. I felt CLIMAX was pretentious, overwrought, and ultimately boring as I didn’t really feel anything about most of the vapid cast. I shouldn’t feel about the cast of HUMAN ZOO either because the type of person who would put their entire life on display to gain fame is not someone I tend to have interest in. But it is a testament to the cast of HUMAN ZOO that I felt more invested in most of their plights than with CLIMAX. Despite the film’s flaws, every member of the cast give it their all, revealing dark secrets, putting themselves in situations that make them appear vulnerable, honest, pathetic, and real, and really going off the deep end in ways you normally don’t see anywhere else but a psych ward in a mental hospital. Having worked in one of those hospitals, I was able to endure HUMAN ZOO, but I don’t think the normal public just looking for a good horror film to watch will have that kind of resolve.

Though I can’t recommend HUMAN ZOO, I can respect what filmmaker John E. Seymore did with it. I think he got some marvelous performances from his entire cast—many of which you would recognize from low budget films from the last few years like LOWLIFE’s Jose Rosete, CONAN THE BARBARIAN’s Raw Leiba, and PURGATORY ROAD’s mousey voiced psycho Trista Robinson. Those are the one’s I recognized, but the entire cast do a really awe-inspiring job at going all out nuts for this film. Each of them lose their minds in unique and tragic ways that made me wonder if they really did endure this torture and fraying at the edges.

The main problem with HUMAN ZOO is that there really is no resolution to the film at all. A group of people are forced to go through hell and then the credits roll. We never find out what happens next, what the ramifications are of this torture, why it was done. I don’t know if the non-ending was intentional—some kind of torment for the invested viewer awarded to them for enduring the movie as long as they did. I do know that those who are in shutdown right now will find some of this film too close for comfort to their real life situations. I don’t know what kind of ending would have satisfied me, but none at all isn’t it. Maybe the filmmaker was trying to make a point about all of us being trapped in our own form of prison (our lives) and that we are put there via our own decisions. But without a definite ending, it’s all left to conjecture. I do think the filmmaker was trying something interesting here. I admire HUMAN ZOO, but can’t recommend it to anyone but those viewers with strong patience, a curiosity for your own endurance in a similar situation, or just appreciators of unconventional cinema.