Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Full of invention and not so tight on construction."

What is it that makes some people obsessed with the idea of tracking down cryptids – legendary creatures which, they believe, just might be real? Is it about adventure, getting attention, or just being able to convince oneself, for a little while, that there’s more to life than the daily grind? Driving up into the mountains, Kay (Chloe Pirrie) might, first and foremost, be looking for a way to connect with the world. She assures herself that she’ll make new friends, they will be normal people, it will be fine. Is she just an anxious person or is her situation already less than fine? In a puzzler of a film which sees time itself distorted by the influence of an otherworldly creature, we will become uncertain not only where she has come from, but when.

The members of the Cedar Springs Women’s Walking Group, all in pink jackets, assemble on a rocky outcropping at Krypto Peak. “We go in together, we go out together,” says the guide as they head down towards the pines. He encourages them to look out for each other, reminding them that this is the place where famous cryptozoology enthusiast Barb Valentine disappeared. They’re well into the forest before he remembers that he should also warn them about bears, the first indication of a deadpan humour which will run throughout the film, further complicating its shifting narrative.

Kay, of course, does what many the heroine of a folklore tale does, and wanders off the path. She is drawn by the sight of a fragment of red cloth high up in a tree. Some might be reminded of the work of Angela Carter; to others, it will appear a literal red flag, and appropriately so. A cluster of mushrooms is growing on a nearby log. As the camera lingers on them, one might wonder if what follows is hallucination. It’s then that she catches sight of her monster, and that things go really off kilter. By the time she finds her way back to the group, she will be unsure of her own identity. Is she Kay or is she Barb? Might she have been Barb all along?

Meandering and disconnected, this South by Southwest 2024 pick explores a cluster of ideas around identity, female experience and sexuality. It’s full of invention and not so tight on construction, but Pirrie proves a capable anchor, creating a strong sense of character even if we (and she) don’t know exactly which character she is. In the course of her efforts to find out, she meets a series of women who have their own stories to tell about the monster – the sooka – and begins to form her own peculiar connection with it. She also experiences a homecoming – to a nightmarish, Lynchian suburbia – where we meet the husband who has never given up on his beloved Barb, but whose suffocating need for control may be the reason why she left.

Then there’s the sex. Speaking to director Kourtney Roy, it’s evident that these monstrous scenes accounted for much of her initial attraction to the story, and that enthusiasm is very much evident onscreen. Reminiscent of things glimpsed in Species and Alien Resurrection, they owe a good deal to the work of HR Giger, but that’s not to say that there isn’t some fantastic original work by the special effects team. Not only are these scenes rather glorious in themselves, but they reveal an unusually positive side to alienation as the film gradually tips into a celebration of what its protagonist might discover by leaving her old identity behind.

In light of this liberating conclusion, it’s tempting to sing Kryptic’s praises, but it remains a deeply flawed film, more ambitious than either Roy or writer Peter Bromley were ready for. What they have achieved, however, is to showcase their skills, and it’s clear that both have bags of potential. One looks forward to seeing what they will do next.

Reviewed on: 31 Mar 2024
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A psychothriller about a woman’s search for a missing monster hunter and her growing realisation that she is inescapably linked to the creature being pursued.

Director: Kourtney Roy

Writer: Paul Bromley

Starring: Chloe Pirrie, Jeff Gladstone, Jason Deline, Ali Rusu-Tahir, Christina Meredith Lewall, Patti Allen, Pam Kearns, Jennifer Copping

Year: 2024

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: Canada, UK

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