The Movie Waffler New Release Review - ZOOLOGY | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - ZOOLOGY

zoology movie review
A woman is given a new lease of life when she sprouts a tail.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Ivan I Tverdovskiy

Starring: Natalya Pavlenkova, Masha Tokareva, Aleksandr Gorchilin, Dmitriy Groshev

zoology movie poster

From Ovid to Kafka and to werewolves in general, and not forgetting the little lad in The Witches who gets changed into a mouse, the transformation of a human being into an animal is generally regarded as something of a curse. In Metamorphosis, characters like Callisto and Lycaon are transformed into creatures such as bears and wolves as an illustration of both their folly and the gods’ subsequent rage (that’ll learn ‘em!), while Shakespeare’s Bottom becomes a donkey chiefly to provide Elizabethan audiences with some broad slapstick and knob gags. You wouldn’t wish enforced beasthood upon anyone, really. And, within the fantasy canon, the only thing worse than going full beast is being part animal yet still part human; a hybrid with no precedence, shunned by man and beast alike. Pity Seth Brundle in The Fly and lament the poor youngest brother in Hans Christian Anderson’s The White Swans, stuck with an ivory feathered wing instead of an arm, marked for all eternity as a boy-monster.

zoology movie

Which is why, in Ivan I Tverdovskiy’s (superlative) Zoology, you can’t blame woman-of-a-certain-age Natasha (Natalya Pavlenkova) for her initial reluctance when she sprouts a three foot long tail. It’s a grim existence anyway for dowdy Natasha, stuck at home with a hen pecking mother and working in a shitty office with a gang of small minded morons who actively bully our girl by filling her desk drawers with mice. No wonder then that kind but conquered Natasha spends her spare time at the zoo, petting the monkeys through the bars and slipping the leopard an illicit hot dog. More at home with these docile creatures who know no shame or vanity, and with the unwelcome appearance of this unwieldy appurtenance, is Natasha becoming something less than human?

zoology movie

Tverdovskiy’s film is mired in a mise-en-scene of misery; knitwear, beige food slurped from old bowls, faces etched with lines of desolation as if middle-age in this nowhere seaside town has worn away any individual aspiration of joy or hope, leaving its inhabitants with little more to do than gossip and snipe about one another, spreading mean stories like a bunch of ruble shop Baba Yagas. The grey colour scheme makes it seem as if even the camera lens itself is worn out. Within these glum circumstances, who can Natasha turn to when this abject appendage sprouts from her spine? Not this gaggle of gossips certainly, nor her superstitious mother, and as for those institutions who are supposedly designed to help, it’s a toss-up between the church and the hospital as to who’s the most useless.

Natasha is on her own, and Zoology itself undergoes a transformation when, in an incredible sequence of bath time onanistic improv, Natasha chooses to embrace her uniqueness (and how!). As she begins to own her mutation, Zoology becomes a moving and surprisingly sexy celebration of the outsider. Natasha gets herself a makeover, embarks upon an affair with a hot young doctor, and, in relation to her peers, becomes something more than what passes for human in this small-minded society. Even the horrified screams which emit from fellow dancers when Natasha’s tail accidentally slips from her skirt down the disco serve to energise her - you go girl!

zoology movie

The film that Zoology most puts me in mind of, with its specific focus on feminine psychology and sexuality, is that other small wonder Ginger Snaps, although whereas that body horror took as its subject the alien changes bodies undergo when we’re young, Zoology suggests the unwanted, uncontrollable permutations our physicality will eventually endure when time catches up with us. However, due to Natasha’s resolve (and Pavlenkova is really something as she essays this exceptional character), her mutation becomes something empowering and even inspirational. In our own way, aren’t we all a bit unusual and lonely? Alas, as the final scenes of this mini-masterpiece suggest, humanity will out, and beneath the transformation it turns out that Natasha was, just like the rest of us, all too human after all. Within its bizarre premise and grotesquery cast, Zoology captures this essential and beautiful truth.

Zoology is in UK cinemas September 29th.