It is almost inconceivable now to explain to audiences in what is now the age of information, the fervent sense of lore and mythology built around the release of The Blair Witch Project in 1999. With all the talk of fake news as of late, a different sense of uncertainty existed regarding how communication transpired during that period. It was a much more naïve speculative time when it came to cinema, which allowed for questions contemplating whether or not something like The Blair Witch Project was a work of non-fiction, to remain unanswered. A feat that seems impossible to replicate now with the overload of knowledge readily available at our fingertips. As such a movie that presents itself in the form that Population Zero presents itself in seems to be tailored for a time that no longer exists.
The impact of Population Zero in many ways hinges itself on the perception you have of what kind of feature exactly you are watching. A perception that is compromised by the mere existence of this or perhaps any review and indeed even the most vague of descriptions that might accompany this film for marketing purposes. The film follows a documentarian that travels to Yellowstone Park to unravel a shocking murder mystery, where a guilty man walked free because of a bizarre legal loophole. In this hybrid micro-budget conspiracy thriller that incorporates elements of crime documentaries such as Making a Murderer and Serial. The lens in which I viewed this film through was very different to what others will view it through, and this will significantly impact your experience of Population Zero. I purposely go into whatever film I watch as blindly and as ignorant as possible, which, as it turns out, is the optimum viewing experience needed to get the most out of this.
I marvelled at how a constitutional loophole could contribute to a self-confessed murderer walking away unreprimanded and watched with great interest as documentarian Julian T. Pinder interviewed the parents of the murder victims, the lawyers involved in the case, as well as friends of murderer Dwayne Nelson. I found Pinder to be irritating, obnoxious and yet a fascinating facet to this story as he places himself in the centre of events like an overzealous documentarian slash detective, editorialising and grasping to find links and patterns in the case that may or may not exist. He often feels like a wannabe Columbo whose brain has become fried after being raised on a diet of too many detective thrillers as a child. As the story progresses he almost becomes a Mark Borchardt or Steve Kudlow type figure who, despite his natural arrogance, becomes somewhat endearing in his earnestness.
As the narrative moved forward no amount of self-inflicted ignorance regarding the details surrounding Population Zero that I had purposely shielded myself from prior to watching would do me any good. Both to Population Zero’s credit and to its detriment at a certain point in the story its limitations exposed itself to me and I felt slightly cheated and the impact of everything that followed was significantly lessened. The paradoxically nature of enjoying these type of productions to the fullest combined with the vehement beast that is the promotional side of the film industry will make it almost impossible to view Population Zero as it was perhaps intended, as that world simply no longer exists to accommodate such a feat.
Originally published on April 3, 2017 for HeyUGuys.
Director: Julian T. Pinder and Adam Levins
Writer: Jeff Staranchuk
Cast: Julian T. Pinder