Zoology is completely based around a simple but sensational premise. A woman lives with her mother and works in a zoo as part of a life which is going nowhere until one day… she grows a tail. Not even a cute bushy tail as you might want it to be. It is a long clumsy thing which protrudes from the base of her spine like an albino snake. Not exactly a flattering feature, but for acclaimed Russian director and writer Ivan I. Tverdovskiy, this is exactly the point.
Tverdovskiy has already explored themes of the body in Corrections Class (2014), specifically disability. Zoology seems to be looking at a body that is – in the eyes of other characters - monstrous rather than impaired. The tail is used metaphorically as Tverdovskiy explores ideas like the body, religion, belief and being in a small Russian town. It is an intriguing exploration of commonly held prejudices and misgivings, which helps to move the story along.
Natalya Pavlenkova portrays Natasha, the woman struck with the embarrassing affliction, and expertly expresses Natasha’s broken emotional state. Pavlenkova also shines in some of the film’s lighter moments, of which there are several, and in building the affectionate but difficult relationship with her doctor Petya (Dmitriy Groshev). Her mother (Irina Chipizhenko), on the other hand, epitomises the kind of superstitious woman of faith who feels terrified by this ‘tailed witch’ (going as far as to paint red crosses all over her house). Of course, she has no idea that the ‘witch’ is actually her daughter.
An interesting story backed up with strong performances is great, but the problem is that it kind of stops there. For a story with such an eye-catching plot summary, Zoology struggles to be an absorbing film. Barring one scene involving a drawer full of mice, nothing which happens takes you by surprise. It all pans out in broadly the way you would expect it too. The final scene, especially, sees a tense but predictable outcome play out.
As the whole idea is that this woman has a tail, and that she works in a zoo, a lot more could have been made of her relationship with the zoo animals and how Natasha seems happiest around them. There are a few moments, but it is something that is never taken as far as it could be.
Zoology proves to be more interesting than enjoyable, intriguing than shocking and thoughtful than especially provocative. It feels like a lot more could have been done with an idea and setting which lends itself to so much, and yet gives less than it promises.
ZOOLOGY / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: IVAN I. TVERDOVSKIY / STARRING: NATALYA PAVLENKOVA, DMITRIY GROSHEV, IRINA CHIPIZHENKO, ALEKSANDR NEKHOROSHIKH, ELLA SANKO / RELEASE DATE: 29TH SEPTEMBER
Expected Rating: 7/10