WFF: ZOE.MP4 a Blood-Soaked Carpe Diem

You may have missed it, but Lionsgate recently tried to reboot the Saw franchise for a  third time a couple months back. The slasher horror series was a favourite of mine in my teen years as I was drawn in not only by the creative gory death traps the Jigsaw killer foisted on his hapless victims, but by his overall mission to force people to reexamine the state of their lives. The ones who survived anyways…

The killer in Jeremy Lutter’s sophomore feature Zoe.mp4 has similar motivations for her killings although her methods require far less mechanical engineering. Wealthy suburbanite Alina (Emily Tennant) has selected the titular Zoe (Julia Sarah Stone) as her latest victim. Like her fellow Zillennials, Zoe is struggling to get ahead in her career, slowly sacrificing her dreams as a painter for a more comfortable life at an architectural firm with her fiancé Matt (Osric Chau). AFter a chance meeting at a late-night diner Alina decides she has found the latest contestant for her own private basement snuff-film series.

Zoe wakes up zip-tied to a chair with a DSLR camera in her face. Alina asks her a series of litmus test questions before quickly determining that Zoe needs to be released from her misery via a swift death. Zoe manages to buy some time by convincing Alina she is pregnant which at least gives her single-mother captor some pause. But the mental chess game gets more complicated when Matt himself gets drawn into the mix and Zoe will be forced to make choices about her future that aren’t so easily undone.

Lutter’s film is one that deliberately makes its audience deeply uncomfortable while simultaneously convincing them not to look away. The script has plenty to say on the virtues of living one’s life versus merely existing. Are we really working towards our dreams or simply surviving while endlessly putting them off until it’s too late? Is the sweet release of death a true state or merely in the eye of an external beholder (an especially potent question given the controversial rise of medically-assisted suicide)? 

Emily Tennant inhabits the sweetly psychotic Alina with such relish that it may be difficult for this reviewer to disassociate her from this role in the future. She’s the type who will softly sing you to sleep before stabbing you in the neck with a knitting needle and Tenant keeps you on edge in every frame she’s in. Stone comports herself well as Zoe, capably playing 3D-mental chess with her captor as she continually bargains to buy extra minutes on her life.

I admit that I find it a curious choice to make Zoe a 22 year-old. Given that she has a budding career, fiancé, and somehow a house (in the uber-expensive Vancouver area no less!), one could argue she’s doing quite well for her age. Never mind that most people in their 30s don’t have their life that well together. In any case, it does make Alina’s targeting of Zoe seem all the more unfair, but audiences can interpret for themselves whether this is a marker of Alina’s increasing psychotic tendencies.

The film certainly scores points as a visual feast with slick and moody cinematography from Daniel Carruthers which meshes with Alina’s DSLR footage. The on-screen bloodletting is seamless and painful. Given Tennents’ aforementioned performance, you wouldn’t be surprised if she was actually torturing her fellow actors.

Zoe.mp4 is the type of film that will leave you re-examining your own life while looking over your shoulder at the same time. It’s a thriller that strives beyond the usual streaming time-filler the genre often becomes and aims to stick in your mind long after the end credits have run. Recommended.




Zoe.mp4 screens as part of Whistler Film Festival at Village 8 cinema on Thurs, Nov 30 @ 8:45pm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *