The unmarried, lonely, zoo administrator Natasha (Natalia Pavlenkova) is bullied by her co-workers, lives in a paranoid, highly spiritual seaside town, where the locals speak of a demon wandering among them and lives with her emotionally suffocating mother. Natasha also has a tail.

This tail appears to have hidden Natasha from experiencing life, in forcing her to stay as a recluse and to stay at home well into her 40s. Something in Natasha tells her to see a doctor, the young radiologist Peter (Dmitriy Groshev) who, through a series of failed X-Rays (sexy!), begins to fall for him. And Peter appears to be welcoming of this newfound interest, taking Natasha out on a series of dates, and paying little attention to the tail.

What easily could’ve been a strange, art-house flick with the tail used for shock value to unsuspecting audience members, those who are branching out of the Hollywood mainstream to experience something different, is instead turned into a warm, poetically sad allegory for outsiders viewing themselves in a body-shaming world. The film is littered with such examples, ranging for the aforementioned botched X-Rays, to Natasha looking at herself in a mirror, to the permeation of a town judging people based on the exteriors only. We won’t delve too deep into such readings as this is not the place (and undoubtedly some of the visuals and thematics resonate stronger with the native Russian audience than it does with the UK audience), but it’s important to note that filmmaker Ivan I. Tverdovskiy uses the tail to say more than ‘Shit, that looks weird!’

The grey colour palette points towards an emptiness that both she and that characters around her are sharing. Natasha isn’t the only character who hasn’t grown up “properly”; her bullying colleagues behave like the mean popular girls from any high school; Peter encourages Natasha to get drunk with him at a spiritual session, only to openly mock and sabotage their beliefs. All the characters, including Natasha, look left behind, stuck in a life that is far from the app-driven milieu of the contemporary world.

Zoology is an allegory on acceptance, a film that opens up the discussion on accepting, or ridiculing, the outsider, and how these two can be equally painful for those on the receiving end.

Zoology is released on September 29th.

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zoology-reviewIvan I. Tverdovskiy gives the world a poetically tragic story of a reclusive outsider. It's painful, it's grim, and it's sometimes hard to watch, but patient viewers will be rewarded by this unclassifiable oddity.