Polygon’s leisure crew is logged on for the 2021 Sundance Movie Pageant, which has gone digital for the primary time ever. Right here’s what it is advisable to know concerning the indie gems that can quickly make their option to streaming providers, theaters, and the cinematic zeitgeist.
Logline: In a world secretly filled with legendary monsters, three girls try to spherical up the surviving bizarre creatures and get them to a sanctuary the place individuals can recognize 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 Whole Excessive College 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 really perfect hippie way forward for world peace and equality, the movie takes a grotesquely bloody flip nearly instantly. They stay in an unpleasant 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 making an attempt to guard cryptids from seize, exploitation, and slaughter.
It’s a troublesome job, each as a result of the locals in websites all over the world are inclined to seize cryptids for nefarious functions, and since Lauren’s reverse quantity Nick (Thomas Jay Ryan) follows her all over the world, 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 desires 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 older idealist patron Joan (Grace Zabriskie), and the untrustworthy mercenary faun Gustav (Peter Stormare).
What’s Cryptozoo making an attempt 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. Nevertheless it additionally has a robust anticapitalist and anti-authoritarian streak that extends not simply to the military-industrial complicated, however extra usually to humanity’s relationship with animals basically. 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 will not be her perfect type of safety, however it’s vital, she says — it has to earn cash to help itself.
Whereas the Cryptozoo itself is constructed round that compromise between idealism and practicality, Joan is a purebred pie-in-the-sky kind whose worldview revolves round love. She’s in a supportive, passionate relationship with one in all her cryptids, and he or she’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 making an attempt 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 individual 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 may 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 targeted 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 typical journey story, but in addition messier and extra liable 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 targeted group, they’re a handful of short-term allies that don’t totally agree on methodology or goal, besides when the scenario will get sequence.
The pacing additionally varies extensively — the opening woodsy idyll looks like an unrushed quick story, with Matthew poised bare atop the excessive Cryptozoo fence as only one pretty 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 onerous work. The movie strikes backwards and forwards between motion and dream-logic, and between espousing excessive beliefs and watching individuals endure as they try to fail to enact them. It’s definitely a cynical story — Shaw’s script has little religion both in his heroes’ capacity to save lots of the day, or of their good intentions in making an attempt.
What does that get us? Very similar to My Whole Excessive College Sinking Into the Sea, or for that matter like several 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 targeted on an arthouse viewers — not simply because of the kid-unfriendly sexual and violent content material right here, however because of the complete venture’s philosophical bent and sophisticated point-of-view shifts.
And after generations of more and more processed and visually elaborate movies from these retailers and others imitating them, the tough hand-drawn really feel of tasks like Cryptozoo may be stunning. It’d be straightforward to name it ugly, however 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 type 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 instances, the character motion in Cryptozoo recollects Indonesia’s wayang puppetry, with inflexible figures transferring largely across the joints. Some sequences veer into a totally totally different type, like the attractive mild present placed on at one level by a sequence of sentient light-creatures. Nothing about the place the story goes or the way it’ll get there stylistically may be taken as a right. 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 facet of the movie’s aesthetics.
Probably the most meme-able second: Cryptozoo is stuffed with startling moments and oddball visuals that inventive memers may definitely repurpose, however perhaps the obvious ones come when Phoebe’s head-snakes chew individuals. The victims aren’t simply poisoned, their flesh revolts and distorts, going full Akira. The picture is an effective setup for an “Oh no, the implications of my very own actions!”-style meme.
When can we see it? Cryptozoo is looking for distribution.