Sundance Review: “Cryptozoo”

Year: 2021
Runtime: 95 minutes
Writer/Director: Dash Shaw
Stars: Lake Bell, Michael Cera, Emily Davis, Louise Krause, Angeliki Papoulia, Thomas Jay Ryan, Jason Schwartzman, Peter Stormare, Grace Zabriskie

By Morgan Roberts

The premise of “Cryptozoo” (2021) appears simple. Lauren (Lake Bell) tries to help capture the Baku, a dream-eating cryptid, and then the moral dilemma of, “should we put these creatures on display or should they remain hidden” arises. Lauren goes on her quest with a gorgon named Phoebe (Angeliki Papoulia).

For some background, cryptids are creatures that are claimed to exist but have never proven to exist. There are cryptids in every culture. In America, we have cryptids like Bigfoot and Mothman. Scotland has the Loch Ness monster. There’s the chupacabra in Puerto Rico, Central and South America, the yeti in the Himalayas, the Bukit Timah Monkey Man, and the kraken, which makes an appearance in this film. There is a long history of cryptids in every culture, and the film makes sure that an array of crytipds of various origins are utilized.

A still from Cryptozoo by Dash Shaw, an official selection of the NEXT section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Johnny Dell’Angelo. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

But the mysticism is lost in the film’s relentless cynicism. There is no hope for much of anything in this film, and it beats you on the head with its distrust in others and hopelessness about people. At the end of the day, everyone is simply bad and misguided. There was no one to truly root for, which makes it difficult to remain engaged.

“Some people really liked how trippy it was and the mythological nature of the film. And with its cast, you can’t help but be drawn in. However, despite this animated film sounding really neat, its execution is lacklustre due to its persistent cynicism and needless violence.”

On top of that, the film hosts a number of questionable scenes including Phoebe being asked to take her top off at a strip club and allowing herself to be nonchalantly violated by the owner of the place. I don’t know why this part of the film surprised me when it started with an absolutely unnecessary sex scene between two characters who seemed completely out of place until their purpose is randomly thrown in at the end.

Then, with the endless cynicism and grotesque sexual scenes, the film is simply violent for no other purpose than to make sure Crayola keeps making their “Scarlet” crayon. I get it, there was bound to be violence as we’re essentially seeing animals being put into a “Jurassic Park”-esque zoo. It just felt like the story was happening around the violence and not the other way around.

I seem to be in the minority of disliking this film. That’s fine. Some people really liked how trippy it was and the mythological nature of the film. And with its cast, you can’t help but be drawn in. However, despite this animated film sounding really neat, its execution is lacklustre due to its persistent cynicism and needless violence.

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