When films open with establishing shots of a city, it’s normally to evoke a sense of place for a story that will, presumably, mostly take place there. When a horror opens this way, it can also be a way of setting up locations for third-act set-pieces.
Zoo, written, directed, edited and scored by Antonio Tublen, disobeys this. It establishes that London is the broad setting for its zombie outbreak story, but the actual film takes place almost entirely within the confines of one couple’s flat. And when it doesn’t, the shots are relegated to the immediate surroundings of their home – e.g. wreckage just across the street or fleeting glimpses of their floor’s corridor. It’s almost as though its characters are confined like animals in a… well, you get the idea.
The marriage of Karen (Zoë Tapper) and John (Ed Speleers) is already on the rocks even before a wave of infection keeps them trapped together. News reports advise the uninfected to stay in their homes, draw an ‘X’ on their windows and wait to be evacuated by armed forces. Unfortunately, rescue doesn’t seem to be coming.
On the plus side, in the face of annihilation, the couple seem to be getting their marriage back together. On the other hand, their food supplies are running out, which becomes a bigger issue when they grudgingly let some of their few uninfected neighbours into their home.
For a film confined to one location, Zoo is all over the place. The best parts are when Tublen focuses on the potential social manners comedy of a zombie apocalypse scenario, whereby petty grudges and selfishness influence the degree to which you might be willing to help your fellow man – like if Swedish provocateur Ruben Östlund made a horror.
That’s not the entire film, though, with comedy awkwardly shifting into drama and snark uncomfortably sitting alongside a turn into sincere tragedy by the time of the film’s conclusion. Zoo might be the easiest zombie film to adapt for the stage, but it would be worth cutting some acts.
Zoo was seen and reviewed at Glasgow Film Festival 2019.