by Tim Birkbeck
When viewing a mockumentary, for the audience there is always an element of “this is a joke right?”
But in Population Zero, if you go into this film not knowing it is based on fiction then it is one hell of a ride, which will leave you shocked.
The film is driven by documentarian Julian T Pinder, who receives and e-mail about the murder of three young Americans in Yellowstone National Park. The accused murderer handed himself in immediately after the brutality, so case closed right? Wrong. The man, Dwayne Nelson, walked free thanks to a constitutional loop-hole.
So in trying to tell Nelson’s story Pinder and his cinematography buddy Adam Levins do what all good documentary makers do, they speak to the families of the victims, speak to people who are involved in the case and try and understand how this murderer is not in a prison cell somewhere.
Right off the bat as a viewer you are questioning how can a man who admitted to the killings, that nobody has ever managed to bring him to trial? Could there be something about the case – something so far overlooked – that might yet lead to a resolution? This is what starts happening with Pinder as he digs and digs, after learning of the disputed “Dead Zone” a 50 square mile area of Yellowstone that falls beyond the Wyoming border in Idaho where the murders take place.
What happens next is truly gripping and in parts pulse racing, as you can’t believe this filmmaker is getting so involved in something he doesn’t need to.This is where the lines being to blur fantastically between reality and to story of the film. Pinder’s insatiable desire to uncover the motives behind such a heinous and cold blooded act, sending him on a trek to Yellowstone and its surrounding areas.
Somewhere along the way, Pinder himself becomes embroiled in the story when he starts to receive alarmingly terrifying pieces of evidence and information, turning him into a cat with a mouse, he just won’t drop it.
The worry with many documentaries, real or otherwise, is the pay off may not be as hard hitting as you expect, but I can attest that Population Zero has a pay off which comes right out of left field and left this reviewer gobsmacked forgetting the “mock” element of the film. For such a minimal film the framing of Population Zero is everything, the shots a beautiful and at times comes across as the perfect mix of Catfish and Making a Murderer.
Population Zero starts off portraying one message, but throws a swerve ball and ever so suitably reveals its real agenda towards the end it such a gripping and clever way.
Dir: Julian T. Pinder and Adam Levins
Cast: Julian T. Pinder and Adam Levins
Runtime: 84 minutes
Population Zero is available on Digital Download now