I thought we would go see Demonic, the Neil Blomkamp film, but the reviews are so bad on it that it seemed like a “watch the trainwreck” kind of affair. Then I thought maybe we’d see The Macaluso Sisters, about five Sicilian orphan girls who rent out doves to make their way—but the reviews on that were 100% critically positive (with no real human beings having seen it). And the critic reviews referred to how “haunting” it was more than the reviews for Demonic, and talked a lot about childhood trauma.
Childhood trauma movies are to critics what movies about feet are to Quentin Tarantino. No, I have no idea what that means, either, other than I got a seriously bad vibe off of that kind of critical response. So I says to The Boy I says, “Screw it, let’s see what’s at the Nuart”—our local and relatively famous “cult cinema” theater which is now owned by Landmark.
Cryptozoo: A crudely animated film about a world where an old hippie grandma wants to keep the cryptids of the world (gorgons, unicorns, krakens, whatever) in a Disneyland-type environment that normies can visit and ultimately grow to accept the monsters that live among them.
It’s a profoundly dumb film and animated at the level of “South Park” (the ’90s era TV show, not the movie) with a kind of Yellow Submarine sensibility and a color palette reminiscent of Fantastic Planet—but despite this, it was still almost certainly the best choice of the three films.
Directed by Dash Shaw, the creator of My Entire High School Is Sinking Into The Sea, this is the story of Lauren Grey (Lake Bell, In A World), a woman who’s The Best At Hunting Cryptids, on a journey to track down the Baku, a Japanese dream-eating monster which is apparently the most powerful thing ever (it’s not really explained) in competition with a similar (male) hunter working the U.S. Army who has a dream of capturing all the cryptids to use in the war in Vietnam. You see, it’s 1967 and…
The first thing struck me about this movie was how utterly prosaic it was for a movie about cryptids. The next thing that struck me was how perfectly aligned with modern political correctness it was. There are no positive human male characters in the film, except for the black guy who is going to marry the white (Hispanic? Italian?) gorgon, and he’s not only a minor character, he’s clearly gay. (I have no idea who voices him—Dash Shaw, maybe?—as this is the whitest movie you’ll ever see, but we did laugh out loud whenever he spoke. The “black men are not allowed to be masculine or aggressive” is a weird one. This guy’s entire main scene he does lying on his back in bed.)
Even among the male cryptids, the only one that qualifies as good is a sasquatch-y type thing that has been domesticated by hippie grandma (Grace Zabriskie, playing something other than a ball-buster for once in her 40 year career). Oh, and there’s a sniveling grade-school age hand-torso thing who’s being beaten by his mom (probably). The other male cryptids are universally destructive, if they’re mentioned at all.
The thing is, I’m sure it’s unconscious. Watching Hollywood product today is like watching a play in medieval Europe. “Gosh, how will they ever get out of this mess? Oh, Jesus saves? What a surprise!” That is, they’re so steeped in dogma at this point, they can’t conceive of any other way to tell a story.
None of this would bug me much, and it might not bug you. You might just enjoy this little morality play where Man tampers in God’s domain—excuse me, Woman tries to Control Nature, and it all goes wrong.
But I’m on this kick of late (say the last 20 years or so, really starting with the Harry Potter movies) where I say, “OK, you’ve changed the rules of the universe to allow for some impossible thing. Now, how does the universe unfold in response?” It’s really noticeable in the fifth movie, I think it is, where some sort of wizard camp-out is broken up by death-eaters. And I say to my self, “Self, every dadblamed one of these consarn wizards is carrying the magical equivalent of a Colt .45, except that it never misses or runs out of bullets. HOW IS ANY OF THIS HAPPENING?”
This is really underscored in mainstream comics where someone will say they saw aliens or something and the authorities will respond with “Oh, you saw aliens? Cuckoo! Cuckoo!” Like the whole world hasn’t witnessed alien attacks. It’s lazy.
In this case, there’s a kind of sloppy storytelling which makes it seem like everyone’s aware of cryptids because except for the first two characters everyone else in the movie is either aware of cryptids or IS a cryptid. Also the movie starts in 1967, which you have to suss out (that’s a ’60s idiom!) from the two hippie characters encountering their first cryptids, then flashes back to the end of WWII where Lauren encounters the Baku as it eats her nightmares, and nobody believes her. But this, too, is not a big deal.
Where it falls apart is the whole concept of the cryptozoo. Joan (Zabriskie) has a vision getting people to come to accept cryptids and to this end, she’s collected all the cryptids of the world she can find into one place, and with such security that literally a naked hippie chick can bring the whole thing crashing down. It begs the question of how all the creatures were collected in the first place? Lauren? How’d she manage to get the kraken and the giant worm? Since the creatures appear not to be supernatural, what does the kraken eat? And is that a salt-water lake? Who built it?
Who built the giant (but apparently easily scalable) unguarded, unmonitored, electric fence? Given that most of the creatures are apparently capable of (and relatively indifferent to) murdering humans, what was the plan for having families come visit the cryptozoo? Not just murdering, but mind-controlling (will-o-the-wisps) and raping (satyrs and centaurs) as well!
Who changes the tires on the Batmobile?!
Or to quote a line from a classic TV series, “repeat to yourself it’s just a show, I should really just relax”. Take it as a fable (that you’ve heard a million times before) and you’ll be fine. For me, well, this is one I’ve heard my whole life and I regard it as a call to apathy, and this presentation rather childish.
I rather enjoyed the crazed cryptid hunter’s fantasies of using cryptids as weapons. Like “Now we can use dragons to burn villages in Vietnam!” A feat previously impossible, I guess. My favorite was “We can use hydras for crowd control!” Well, look, all the hydras are gonna do is eat people, which is admittedly cool, but probably much harder logistically than just shooting them.
The Boy said, “I think I liked it more than you because the hippie guy dies in the first five minutes. Also, monsters are cool.” Fair points.