Population Zero could be accused of jumping on the success of How to Make a Murderer, which found unprecedented popularity after its release on Netflix, because it had a story-line so immersive, so raw that it enticed viewers succinctly as the lines between fact and fiction blurred. This emotional depth is exactly how Population Zero manifests in the minds of the viewers, with a plot that consists of challenging complexity due to its non linear format. The most accurate genre to place it within would be a ‘mockumentary’ crime-thriller that utilises a found-footage element based around the deaths of three young men who died in 2009, in a remote part of Yellowstone National Park.
In the film, we watch co-director Julian T. Rinder investigate the mysterious deaths after authorities let culprit Dwayne Nelson go, even after detailing his horrendous crimes. He’d gunned them down in cold blood, but thanks to a loophole in the American constitution he was allowed to walk free. Whilst the story-line and the footage is nothing more than fiction, the horrifying reality behind the film is that the murder zone actually exists in Yellowstone National Park. While Population Zero isn’t the first film to explore the inconceivable horror and injustice that lies in the heart of one of America’s most popular national parks, in 2007 Fire Free (a novel by C J Box) was released and it imagined the atrocities which could unfold due to such a trivial loophole in the constitution. Attacking the American Constitution is a brave move for any director to take, yet Population Zero makes a heroic dive into the political and hopes to expose the deplorable injustice.
Whilst the film can be slow in parts, no-one can deny it’s an evocative piece of film that has all of the potential to leave you reaching for the tissues. My only qualm would be the occasionally questionable morality of the film, while some footage is intended to be plaintively real, I couldn’t help but feel the women portrayed as the mourning mothers were a mockery to those that have lost their young to real injustice. You come away from watching the film rather deflated, as there’s no real resolve to the ending. Just a sense of anger and injustice at how the US constitution and the supreme laws in America can let a guilty man go free.
Population Zero is the true definition of a psychological thriller that takes you through many wrought emotions and so you’re wondering whether you should find empathy or anger as the credits roll, even after the heroic bid for answers after Pinder immerses himself to extreme lengths as to re-open the trial years after it has been laid to rest. However, directors Julian T. Pinder and Adam Levins have still managed to create one of the best mockumentaries of the 21st century because of the way it effortlessly contorts the lines between truth and fiction.