Wednesday, August 09, 2017
Population Zero (2017)
Julian T. Pinder
WRITER: Jeff Staranchuk
Julian T. Pinder
In April of 2009, three friends are murdered in a remote part of Yellowstone National Park. Their killer walks into a ranger's station and hands himself in immediately after the murders. All the families of the three young men are left even more shattered when their killer walks free due to a loophole in the American Constitution. Julian T. Pinder who is a documentary filmmaker will try and get to the bottom of the crime and become more involved than he originally predicted.
Going into Population Zero, I was ready for a true crime documentary. If it hasn't been made clear just yet from any of my previous documentary reviews on the blog or even on my Twitter, I'm a huge fan of all things true crime and anything related to serial killers. So when I originally heard about Population Zero, I was excited to see this latest documentary about three men who were murdered in Yellowstone National Park. I went into this fully expecting a documentary and nothing more.
When Population Zero began, it didn't take long before I realised that something was off about this documentary. Something wasn't right. The documentary begins like any other and shows the crime scene involving the three victims. The filmmaker starts to detail the crimes but almost immediately everything looked way too polished to me and it suddenly clicked that this may be a mockumentary of true crime. When this happened, I started to lose interest in the story as I knew the whole thing was fake.
I have to hand it to the producers and director of Population Zero. The marketing of this film while certainly not on the same level of movies like The Blair Witch Project when it comes to that type of clever marketing is still a worthy effort because I went into this under the belief that this was a documentary about a real crime. They had me for a few minutes before I got wind with what was going on with the film. I can appreciate that they tried to do a mockumentary over another found-footage film.
One of the elements that I enjoyed about this film was that the director decided to connect this mockumentary to one of his own real Documentary films. I thought that was a really clever touch by the director. While I personally haven't seen his previous documentaries, I questioned how this would sit with people knowing that one is a real documentary and they've tried to incorporate this clearly fake "true-crime" into what is essentially a real story. I don't think I've ever personally seen that done in a film before and I give them props for that.
When it comes to the twist in the film, I thought it was a pretty clever twist. It had this almost Erin Brockovich type of environmental vibe to the story and why these murders were committed. I think in that sense, the movie deserved another point from me. I thought it was a fun way to reveal why this person did what they did. I was thankful there was no third act that involved something supernatural or someone being possessed as a plot device or a last second found-footage shot of some sort of creature attacking the camera crew or filmmakers. I thought it was refreshing.
I thought the acting was pretty hit and miss for me. For a movie that is trying to pass itself off as a documentary, the interview segments were all over the place. I could sense that the actors playing the parents of the murdered men were trying to do their best but I could see one of them almost starting to crack a smile as she's meant to be talking and listening to her husband talk about their murdered child. Another element that took me out of the story. Julian T. Pinder is the best actor in Population Zero.
In terms of tough subject matter, once you realise pretty early on that it's all fake, the movie loses all that it has going for it. As someone who loves a good true-crime documentary and wanted a creepy true story about murders in Yellowstone National Park, the choice to go with the mockumentary style will be the thing that I think causes a lot of people to be turned off this film in the end. I think anyone who goes in expecting a documentary will be sorely disappointed.
Lastly, is Population Zero scary? No, it's not. The film towards the third act tries to build suspense by making our two filmmakers paranoid that the killer that they are trying to hunt down for an interview is after them and it has this cat and mouse sort of feel to it but it isn't scary. The film also doesn't have much in the way of violence or gore. I expected this to get pretty dark in sections of the story and it doesn't ever go to where I thought it was going to go.
DEATH TOLL: 4
BLOOD AND GORE:
- Three men are shot dead in a national park.
- A man shoots himself in the head on camera.
Population Zero is a mockumentary that I originally believed was a documentary. As a huge fan of true-crime documentaries, I wanted to watch a creepy story about a few men being murdered in Yellowstone National Park. Instead, I got a fake story with some pretty terrible and unconvincing performances. I think where the movie works best is the twist, the marketing and a connection to his previous real life documentary. I think the film is worth a once off watch.