Sunday, June 18, 2017

Population Zero (2017)


Julian T. Pinder
Adam Levins

WRITER: Jeff Staranchuk


Julian T. Pinder
Stephanie Mason
Victor Flynn
Chester Dobbs
Daniel Matcek
Catherine Hammond
Ken Williams


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 gruesome murders. All of 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 film. If it hasn't already been made clear just yet from any of the previous documentary reviews over on the blog or even on Twitter, I'm a huge fan of all things true crime and everything that is related to serial killers. So when I originally heard about Population Zero, you could say that I was excited to see this latest documentary about three men who are 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 begins to detail the crimes but almost immediately everything looked way too polished for me, and it suddenly clicked that this may be a mockumentary of the true crime genre. So when this happened, I started to lose interest in the plot as I knew it was all 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 movie 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 them being possessed as a plot device or a last-second found-footage shot of a 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 this 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 talking and listening to her husband talk about their murdered son. 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 this is 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 whole mockumentary style will be the thing that will cause 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 movie towards the third act tries to build suspense by making our two filmmakers paranoid that the killer that they were 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.



- 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 massive fan of true-crime documentaries, I wanted to witness a creepy true story of the three men who were murdered in Yellowstone National Park. Instead, I got a fake story with some pretty terrible and unconvincing performances. I think where the film works best is the twist, the marketing and that connection to the director's previous real-life documentary. I think the film is worth a once off watch.


  1. I thought the woman who played the ex-girlfriend was too pretty to be living in the remote hinterland of Idaho with a pig-killing husband. Plus, she looked very familiar (I think I know the actress).

  2. Yeah, I caught onto it pretty quickly myself. It didn't take long for me to realise that this was all fake. I like that they attempted to try and make it appear as if it were real though.