One thing I learned long ago: you can’t change your true nature, even if it can change you.
Sometimes a film comes along where you have to suspend your instincts to point out the unrealistic nature of the storyline and just go with it, and in 2005 Zerophilia certainly fit into that type of movie.
Due to being transgender this was naturally a film I would find myself watching at some point and it has since become one of my top 10 films, even though I don’t watch it on a regular basis. It’s not a masterpiece but it is an excellent film that has seemingly gone unnoticed by the vast majority of the movie-going world, but given it’s EXTREMELY limited release, it’s hardly surprising.
A film like Zerophilia was never likely to get very far in terms of sales and was infact only available to view at the Sao Paulo Film Festival and a very limited run in America, a run that saw it make little of £7,000. You also can’t even buy the DVD on Amazon except for as an import from America, which means that pretty much unless you already know about this movie, or happen to see the clips on Youtube, it’s extremely unlikely that if you live in the UK that you will ever see this film on TV. It’s a shame in many ways as there is one very interesting plot point which I will get onto in later.
Luke (Handley) loses his virginity to a random stranger whilst on a camping trip. Although everything seems normal at first, weird things start to happen such as his sporadic losing and very rapidly losing his bodily hair. Things start to progress to the point where anytime he becomes sexually aroused he starts turning into a girl and it inevitably turns out that Luke is what is known as a zerophiliac, someone born with an extra chromosome that allows them to change gender when they get turned on.
At first Luke is exceedingly against the idea and tries desperately to hide it from his new girlfriend, Michelle (Mozo). After his previous experiences of partial change (such as developing breasts in mid-conversation) he decides to “go all of the way” just to try and see if he could eventually learn to control it, but what he didn’t expect was to find was a growing attraction to Max (Schmid), Michelle’s brother whilst in his female form, whom he names Luca (Delfino).
Although at first Luke dismisses the idea of being female entirely, he soon finds himself struggling to decide on which gender to be and who he ultimately wants to be with.
So why should I watch this movie?
Zerophilia is an excellent film and one that has the ultimate moral message of “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.” Luke is absolutely against the idea of even slightly transforming into a woman when we first meet him, however, most of the second half of the film he has a real dilemma as to which gender he wishes to be and ultimately who he wants out of the siblings. What makes this unusual relationship triangle (sort of) more intriguing is that when he is in his male form, Luke can’t stand Max and they even get into a fight when the latter expresses an interest in Luca.
It’s quite an interesting relationship dynamic, especially when the film’s twist is revealed towards at the end. The twist makes the film even more fascinating because it reminds me a lot of when you see a film such as The Sixth Sense, Fight Club and other films like that. I’m not saying that the twist is an epic as it was in those films, but this twist certainly makes an impact. You have virtually no chance of noticing it in advance of it being revealed and it actually makes the film really enjoyable the second time around because you know what you’re looking for. It’s quite clever in a way. I won’t spoil it, even though I really want to, just so if you do ever watch it, you can experience the surprise when it’s revealed.
Add into the mix a woman called Sydney (Gina Bellman), who arrives in town after being contacted by Keenan and is permanently trying to have sex with Luke. It all seems quite bizarre and you’re never entirely sure what’s going on until there is also a mini-twist in that subplot. That twist brings the subplot crashing into the main plot of the film and takes the film in a totally different and interesting direction when you find out what her motives are. She is portrayed by Gina Bellman, most famous to people in the UK for her role in the BBC Show “Coupling” and she is excellent in the role as the seemingly sex-crazed doctor.
There is a further subplot where Luke’s friend Keenan (Seavey) and his girlfriend Janine (Folland) have completely different opinions and approaches to the situation. Keenan is completely freaked out by the idea, even to the point where he wants to disown Luke as a friend when he sees him as Luca, wearing a dress and flirting with Max, but Janine is curious and actively tries to get involved, and the two argue on a regular basis about the approach and what the overall attitude towards the situation should be, even questioning their own relationship because of this.
Unlike a lot of films made in America, it’s not actually set in a big city. It’s set in what appears to be a very small American town (it’s not revealed at any point where they are) and that allows for the setting itself to almost become a character. You get the feeling that each location, although remote, is an important place in the lives of the characters rather than just somewhere that they have to be. For example, early on in the film Luke is telling Keenan about his concerns about his body changes, such as his penis getting smaller when he is having a sexual dream (before he knows he’s a zerophiliac) on top of a truck over looking the town from a hill. Whoever did the location scouting for this film deserves praise.
For a relatively young cast (at the time) I thought the group also did an excellent job and it’s unsurprising that several of them have gone on to become regulars on TV and movies in America. Luke, played by Taylor Handley, was in films such as Battle : Los Angeles (the less said about that the better) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre : The Beginning. Handley is excellent as Luke and plays the conflicted character brilliantly, especially later on in the film when the character has returned to male form and wants to be with Michelle, but acknowledges that despite it not feeling right, he also has feelings for Max.
Other such examples of the cast in other films in Hollywood that you might have actually seen include Alison Folland (Janine) in the rather flawed “The Happening” (she is in the first scene stabbing her own neck), Taylor Schmid was in the Viggo Mortenson thriller “A History of Violence” and Dustin Seavey (Keenan) has featured in TV shows CSI, NCIS Vegas, amongst others.
The film isn’t free of flaws though.
First of all, I’m actually going to start with something that really pisses me off and it’s that the film makes a big deal about having Kelly LeBrock as part of the cast. She plays the woman that Luke loses his virginity to and is off of the screen almost as soon as she appears. She is in it for less than a minute and yet gets star billing somehow. For those who don’t know who Kelly LeBrock is, she is an actress who played Lisa in the 1980s classic “Weird Science”, that is the only film she is famous for. Other than that she has appeared in pretty much nothing noteworthy, and yet they made a big deal out of her being in the film. Had this been the 80s then I would understand, but it’s not. This film was made 20 years after her one big hit, so she’s not a star and I wish the movie would stop pretending that she is.
Anyway, onto the next thing now that I’ve had a chance to vent. There is a lot of music throughout the film, and I mean a LOT. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with having a lot of music in a film but it really has to make you more interested in the scene. One such example of where this falls is when Luke has fully transformed into Luca for the first time and she is examining her new body for the first time. It’s a good scene but the music in the background is just terrible. It really is, it almost makes me want to skip.
Will it ever be considered one of the best films ever made? No. I like the film a lot and would recommend it, and many it’s a good thing that it wasn’t really released anywhere as I don’t think it would have done that well had it been given a worldwide cinema release.
Whilst the science is certainly debatable behind Zerophilia, effectively making up a genetic condition actually allow for a lot of flexibility with where you can go with your characters, and each character is written superbly well. The young cast pulls it off fantastically and I would seriously recommend it if you ever get a spare 90 minutes.