Population Zero (2016) Review

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I like a good mockumentary and they’re a great fit for the horror genre even if there’s a comedy edge to them like What We Do In The Shadows (2014) I was flicking through what to watch and stumbled across this one which is based around the interesting subject of the Zone of Death in Yellowstone Park USA. It was time to sit down and see if this was a hit or if it missed the mark.

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Writer: Jeff Staranchuk

Run Time: 84 minutes
Yellowstone National Park is located in Wyoming, USA. However there’s a small piece of the park that crosses the border into Idaho, this patch is known as the Zone of Death. Due to a loophole in the US constitution you could get away with the perfect murder there. The park is ran by Wyoming despite being in two other states, if you were to murder someone in the part of the park labelled the Zone of Death you would need to be tried in front of a jury, what makes this different is that your constitutional rights demand the jury is made up of people living where you committed the crime. Problem is no one lives in the area that crosses between Idaho and Wyoming, therefore allowing you to go free.
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This much is true and it makes up the basis for this mockumentary. Julian wants to investigate and record his finding around the fictional murder of three young lads out in the park, despite their murderer admitting to brutally killing all three he was set free. There’s interviews with their families, the police that investigated the case and the residents of the surrounding towns although they’re unwilling to discuss it.
He investigates and records all his finding as he tries to find out more about the victims and the murderer. Tracking down his old flame and his somewhat troubled history as a child and in his personal life.
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Julian’s investigation sees him trying to prove that the murderer had a motive for the killings and connect the murderer to the young lads for something that happened outside of the park. This is the only way the killer can be prosecuted for the murders. However soon Julian becomes wrapped up in the case a lot more than he expected to be. His camera man even leaves due to feeling so threatened by what’s happening.

There’s not really much else to explain about the plot without giving away spoilers hopefully that’s enough for you to decide if it’s your kind of thing or not!

The Good

  • The elements of truth behind the Zone of Death are really fascinating, I spent a while looking round at various websites that talked about this loophole it was so interesting.
  • The first 45 minutes that set up what happened to the victims and how the case unraveled in court is really well done.
  • It’s not that important but there’s some really nice shots of the park.
  • The iconic photo of the bear chasing a burnt buffalo.
  • The look into the personal demons of the killer.

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The Bad

  • There are some stretches of the film that are quite boring with some pacing issues.
  • I didn’t really like the ending too much.
  • Not sure why they had the towns folk so unwilling to talk about it, seemed a bit silly to me.

Overall this seems like a bit of a missed opportunity, whilst the real life truths it’s based on are fascinating it’s just missing something. This could have been so much better and for a relatively short film it has some serious pacing issues, I don’t want action in a film like this as it doesn’t suit but it was still a bit of a struggle at times. It’s worth checking out if you’re interested in the Zone of Death, if not I wouldn’t bother.

Overall Rating – 5.5/10

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3 thoughts on “Population Zero (2016) Review

  1. The Zone of Death. I like the sound of that and the premise is interesting. It is always a pity when a film starts out with a great idea and then loses momentum. Perhaps a far better story, although it would not have been horror could have concentrated on the fact that the park sits in the caldera of a super volcano. Good review!

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