A few of my friends and I play this game where we describe increasingly insane scenarios and see how much money it would take for one of us to actually go through with the proposed situation. They can be anything from living with your hands on the wrong arms to racing across the state with an angry honey badger loose in the car.
It’s silly and absurd, but it’s a fun way to pass the time and often leads to some very funny conversations.
John E. Seymore‘s HUMAN ZOO seems like it could have been born out of a similar, if more serious, game.
In the film, a group of everyday people are chosen to be part of a reality web series called “Solitary Confinement.” The premise of the game is simple: Each contestant is placed into an 8×8 cell and the individual who can last longest in confinement wins one million dollars.
It’s a great premise, perfect for indie filmmakers who want to create something on a low budget. All you need are actors, lights, and minimal props and costumes.
And there are a lot of good ideas at play here. From the uncomfortable surroundings to the suspect motivations of the showrunners, HUMAN ZOO has a cohesive concept that I dug. I really liked the idea that the rooms these contestants are in have no door. It’s as if the walls were plastered closed behind them. It’s a small touch that makes the scenario all the more creepy.
The big issue with the film is that there is almost no arc. While the beginning has some good momentum, once the characters (whom we barely get to know anything about) are in their cells, the film simply becomes voyeuristic, cutting between the characters as they slowly lose their minds. From an experimental film perspective, this is an interesting choice – one that the likes of Warhol and Waters would approve – but the results here aren’t quite the same.
It’s likely the filmmaker was hoping the audience would feel as trapped as the characters, but instead I just felt disengaged. I wanted to care about the characters. I wanted to see them succeed, and fail, and change. But when we rounded into the second hour of the same few people saying roughly the same thing, I just sat back and let it wash over me.
That said, I think there are plenty of folks who will really engage with this film. If you enjoy a good “slice of life” and heading off the proverbial storytelling map, HUMAN ZOO might be the right choice for you. HUMAN ZOO arrives on DVD/VOD May 5, 2020.