Polygon’s leisure workforce is logged on for the 2021 Sundance Movie Pageant, which has gone digital for the primary time ever. Right here’s what it’s worthwhile to know in regards to the indie gems that may quickly make their strategy to streaming companies, theaters, and the cinematic zeitgeist.
Logline: In a world secretly filled with legendary monsters, three ladies try and spherical up the surviving bizarre creatures and get them to a sanctuary the place folks can respect them in peace. A navy bounty hunter has extra brutal plans for the trio.
Longerline: Sprint Shaw, the comics artist and indie animator behind 2016’s enjoyably weird My Complete Excessive Faculty Sinking Into the Sea, returns with Cryptozoo, which is equally stilted, wild, and unpredictable. Opening on a dreamy intercourse scene, the place companions Amber (Louisa Krause) and Matthew (Michael Cera) get bare within the woods at evening and dream about a super hippie way forward for world peace and equality, the movie takes a grotesquely bloody flip nearly instantly. They stay in an unsightly world that doesn’t respect excessive beliefs and groovy vibes. Cryptid-hunter Lauren Gray (Lake Bell) definitely is aware of it: ever since childhood, when a dream-eating Japanese creature referred to as a baku rid her of nightmares, Lauren has been attempting to guard cryptids from seize, exploitation, and slaughter.
It’s a troublesome job, each as a result of the locals in websites world wide are likely to seize cryptids for nefarious functions, and since Lauren’s reverse quantity Nick (Thomas Jay Ryan) follows her world wide, scooping up her finds for the U.S. navy. He desires the baku specifically as a result of he believes it might be used to erase “the goals of the counterculture,” and finish left-wing protests for good. Lauren winds up chasing the baku simply forward of him, with the assistance of the gorgon Phoebe (Angeliki Papoulia), their getting old idealist patron Joan (Grace Zabriskie), and the untrustworthy mercenary faun Gustav (Peter Stormare).
What’s Cryptozoo attempting to do? The movie is nominally an journey story, full with gunfights, fistfights, cryptid-on-cryptid slaughter, and a quest that ends badly for an terrible lot of people and creatures. However it additionally has a powerful anticapitalist and anti-authoritarian streak that extends not simply to the military-industrial complicated, however extra typically to humanity’s relationship with animals usually. When Phoebe first sees the soon-to-open Cryptozoo, the sanctuary the place Joan is housing dozens of oddities, some with human intelligence, the gorgon is deeply disillusioned. She factors out that it appears extra like a shopping center than a refuge. And it does — it’s filled with strip-mall shops and carnival sideshows, with Lauren boasting that they promote toys modeled after each confirmed cryptid. The garish zoo is probably not her excellent type of safety, nevertheless it’s obligatory, she says — it has to earn cash to assist itself.
Whereas the Cryptozoo itself is constructed round that compromise between idealism and practicality, Joan is a purebred pie-in-the-sky sort whose worldview revolves round love. She’s in a supportive, passionate relationship with one among her cryptids, and she or he’s satisfied that the world’s issues may be solved with extra of those sorts of connections. However she and her fellow preservationists could also be benefitting greater than the cryptids. The movie ultimately means that attempting to include them isn’t doing them any favors. Shaw acknowledges Lauren’s heroism in standing as much as the predators who see each creature and particular person round them when it comes to revenue. However even she is available in for harsh criticism from Nick, who feels she’s doing the work each for her personal peace of thoughts, and for the uncooked thrill.
The quote that claims all of it: “We are able to solely greet the unusual and weird with love. And if we present them love, they are going to return love. And love will unfold and envelope all of the beings on our numerous, wondrous world.”
Does it get there? Cryptozoo’s morals can really feel hazy amid all of the motion and incident, which feels extra centered on speaking its characters’ extensively various personalities and targets than find a commonality between them. That leaves the narrative feeling extra life like than the common journey story, but additionally messier and extra susceptible to distractions, like a subplot round Phoebe’s impending marriage that doesn’t quantity to a lot. The cryptid-protectors aren’t a unified and even centered group, they’re a handful of non permanent allies that don’t absolutely agree on methodology or function, besides when the state of affairs will get collection.
The pacing additionally varies extensively — the opening woodsy idyll looks like an unrushed brief story, with Matthew poised bare atop the excessive Cryptozoo fence as only one beautiful dream-image in an extended sequence of them. However a conflict between Lauren and Nick over a Russian bird-woman hybrid referred to as an alkonost feels extra like an episode out of Raiders of the Misplaced Ark, full with Belloq swooping in to seize the idol after Indy does all of the arduous work. The movie strikes forwards and backwards between motion and dream-logic, and between espousing excessive beliefs and watching folks endure as they attempt to fail to enact them. It’s definitely a cynical story — Shaw’s script has little religion both in his heroes’ potential to save lots of the day, or of their good intentions in attempting.
What does that get us? Very similar to My Complete Excessive Faculty Sinking Into the Sea, or for that matter like every good outsider artwork, Cryptozoo winds up as a window right into a decidedly uncommercial thoughts, and a type of storytelling that isn’t the practiced, polished committee effort that comes out of animation homes like Disney and DreamWorks. It’s uncommon to see American animation aimed solely and particularly at adults, however Cryptozoo is noticeably centered on an arthouse viewers — not simply because of the kid-unfriendly sexual and violent content material right here, however because of the complete challenge’s philosophical bent and complex point-of-view shifts.
And after generations of more and more processed and visually elaborate movies from these shops and others imitating them, the tough hand-drawn really feel of tasks like Cryptozoo may be stunning. It’d be simple to name it ugly, nevertheless it’s extra correct to name it idiosyncratic. Actually the visuals bear a lot nearer examination, to see the place the textures of paints and pencils give the pictures a rougher and extra particular really feel, or the place shifts from one fashion to a different — just like the distinction between the uncooked contours of Lauren’s face and the fine-lined element of Phoebe’s snake-hair — give the protagonists much more visible character.
At occasions, the character motion in Cryptozoo recollects Indonesia’s wayang puppetry, with inflexible figures transferring largely across the joints. Some sequences veer into a very totally different fashion, like the gorgeous mild present placed on at one level by a collection of sentient light-creatures. Nothing about the place the story goes or the way it’ll get there stylistically may be taken with no consideration. That’s one of many largest joys of Shaw’s tasks — the sense of one thing new and totally different taking place, of that anti-capitalist, anti-conformist, anti-containment bent that stretches all through the story additionally extending into each side of the movie’s aesthetics.
Probably the most meme-able second: Cryptozoo is filled with startling moments and oddball visuals that inventive memers might definitely repurpose, however perhaps the obvious ones come when Phoebe’s head-snakes chunk folks. The victims aren’t simply poisoned, their flesh revolts and distorts, going full Akira. The picture is an efficient setup for an “Oh no, the results of my very own actions!”-style meme.
When can we see it? Cryptozoo is looking for distribution.
Let’s block advertisements! (Why?)