ZOO — * 1/2 — Documentary feature about zoophilia and bestiality; not rated, probable R (vulgarity, sex, profanity, brief nudity, violence).

"Zoo" would be laughable if it weren't in such bad taste. This documentary is about so-called zoophiles, people who have an unusually strong attraction — sometimes sexual in nature — to animals.

Thankfully, the film itself is not as salacious or explicit as you might fear, as it tries to put a tasteful spin on some extremely distasteful subject matter. It's also a surprisingly straight-faced, sympathetic portrayal of a group of these zoophiles, or "zoos," as they call themselves.

"Zoo" was inspired by and does discuss a now-infamous 2005 incident in which a divorced Seattle father bled to death after having sexual relations with a horse at a farm in rural Washington.

The film itself is undeniably well-made, but who really wants to know about the beliefs and practices of individuals that a vast majority of people would find incredibly perverse and even criminal?

Also, there are several ridiculous aspects to the documentary, not the least of which are the fake names that are given to the three main interview subjects: "Coyote," "H" and "The Happy Horseman." To be fair to director Robinson Devor, this is how they prefer to be addressed. (The men also refer to their late friend as "Mr. Hands.")

Devor throws in an odd interview snippet with an actor who plays a cop in one of the re-enactment scenes, as well as an audio clip in which conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh apparently comes to the defense of "zoos."

But all three act as if they're the injured parties here, and Devor is more than willing to let them. That may be the film's worst poor-taste aspect.

"Zoo" is not rated but would probably receive an R for frank discussions of aberrant sexuality, as well as crude sexual language (slang), simulated sexual contact, scattered profanity, brief glimpses of full male nudity, a brief scene of animal-related violence and a violent apprehension. Running time: 75 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com