Movie Review: ‘Human Zoo’

Director: John E. Seymore

Cast: Robert Carradine, Jose Rosete, Rachel Amanda Bryant, Jessica Cameron, Megan Le, John D. Cawford, Heather Dorff, Robert Catrini

Plot: A diverse group of people compete for millions of dollars on a webstreamed reality show where they’re kept in solitary confinement.

Review: For every multi-billion dollar blockbuster there’s a handful of small films that work on a minimal budget and stretch every dollar as far as it will go. When they succeed it’s on the strength of the talent, not the multi-million dollar industry working the production. There are even some examples of movies where they saved money by redressing the same tiny set over and over. It’s done with a sci-fi booby trap room in Cube and a corridor corner in Dredd. Part of the reason for this is creative and dynamic use of the camera and editing, and the performances of the main roles. More recently we had The Platform, that was highly engaging despite using a single concrete room as their set.

Human Zoo‘s failing isn’t in the very small budget it is obviously working on. They have limited use of sets, but that’s incorporated into the narrative. The major pitfall of the movie was to film 80% of it from the one camera angle. Yes, there’s one static, overhead high angle shot that is used for the vast majority of this movie. Clearly it’s used to represent the webcam maintaining a constant visual and audio feed to the public, but we’d understand if you mixed it up. Curiously enough they do very occasionally treat us to a bit of washed out, wobbly handicam so they trust us to get the premise that cinema has been casually using for our entire lives. Try and imagine that you’re watching someone from one corner of a room, and how boring that would get. This guy Seymore made that into a movie.

With the intentionally bleak setting and total disregard for cinematic language, we’re left with the acting to carry the experience. The cast certainly give it their all, but this is cheesy material at times and they’ve got nothing to act off. No other performers and no setting to speak of. They’re swimming upstream here, and they’re just not convincing enough. I find this the fault of the film-making rather than the actors. Even when they’re in scenes prior to being in a box, everything is an awkward close-up in a tight space. For 20 minutes we see the same routine being carried out on every character. For example, they are forced to shower so we see every character go through the routine. Then there’s no towel, so we go through the same scene of every character reacting. Here’s the kicker though – these are also unnecessarily from the same camera angle each time.

For the shower scene, the guard who is supposed to be leering at the women showering is very, very bad at conveying that. Maybe that reflects well on him as a person, because it’s a weird performance.

This looks more like a student project than a movie intended for release. It’s a concept, that could make a better short film because you won’t be looking at the same camera angle for an hour and forty-five minutes. There’s not even anything clever about the editing. There’s the occasional split screen, but otherwise it holds on one shot while the characters monologue with enthusiasm. Just saying – real reality TV shows have challenges to make things interesting to the audience.

Even the concept of it being “the first live-streamed 24/7 webseries”, a plot point they emphasise heavily at the beginning of the movie, is kinda weird because it’s set in 2017. YouTube had been streaming live events since 2008, so even the reality of this world feels cheap.

It’s time for some honesty here – I haven’t yet finished the movie. There’s a half hour to go. I’m going to assume that this is building up to a real clever plot twist. I think it’s going to turn out that the edgelord on loan from Reddit who walked out on the auditions after shocking everyone talking about how much he likes his willy has killed the producers and running the show.

Rating: ONE out of TEN

P.S. I got to the ending, there wasn’t a twist. They just sob and go ‘crazy’ and then there’s a scathing comment about how we, the viewers, are really the human zoo. Because…society.