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[CFF 2022] CRYO Review - An Unsettling Experiment in Human Psychology

Breanna Lucci says Cryo isn’t particularly fear-inducing, but it does offer a thought-provoking insight into the human mind.

Emily Marie Palmer in CRYO (2022) presented at the 2022 Chattanooga Film Festival, directed by Barrett Burgin.
Courtesy of Chattanooga Film Festival

Barrett Burgin’s feature debut, Cryo, is a mystery science fiction thriller that blurs the lines between reality and fiction. Burgin co-wrote the film with Mason D. Davis. Cryo follows five scientists who stumble out of cryosleep chambers, baffled by each other’s unfamiliar faces. They do not know who they are, how they got there, or how long they have slept inside the icy tubes. It stars Jyllian Petrie, Emily Marie Palmer, Curt Doussett, and Morgan Gunter. The crew of dirty, confused experts must fight to survive the unknown.

The psychologist (Petrie) is our protagonist, struggling to piece together the mysterious blood puddles and blood-soaked weapons scattered about the room. As the doctor (Palmer) gets sicker, the engineer (Doussett) becomes more paranoid, the solider (Davis) finds himself suspected of foul play, and the biochemist (Gunter) hides in the shadows. Is the dirty old bunker they’ve awoken in their only hope of survival? Or is there a world outside the sealed door, beckoning them to crawl out?

Director of photography Roman Alaivi employs exciting techniques to tell this story, including an intriguing use of color, hopping from scenes saturated with red to blue, reflecting the uneasy mood changes and plot points. As things intensify, red hues seep into the frame. Red is also used to represent the outside of the bunker, a focal point of conflict throughout the film. Slow, shaky shots successfully build suspense and discomfort. In other ways, Cyro’s production blunders. With a runtime of nearly two hours, it seems to drag on. Scenes are often strangely edited together, making some conversations feel disjointed and awkward.

The performances leave something to be desired. Notable moments that should have elevated the suspense fell flat because of awkward pauses or disheveled line delivery. We know what they are trying to get at, but it plays off as forced. The only two performers that seem to have a genuine connection are Palmer and Gunter, who walk the line between friendship and something more. Their shared scenes give humanity to their characters, which alone feels forced and unnatural. The other performances are stagnant and uninteresting, as if they are cardboard cutouts of what real people should be.

Burgin and Davis both shine and stumble in their writing with their first feature screenplay. The overall storyline is fascinating: the film’s obstacle is a cryptic escape room where the characters must find clues, solve puzzles, and unlock codes to free themselves. This aspect kept me intrigued, working with the scientists as they uncovered new information.

Foreshadowing is heavily and successfully employed, as Burgin and Davis work vital clues into the story and beautifully hide them in plain sight. In other areas, the writing didn’t work for me. The dialogue does not propel the story. Instead, it frequently feels robotic, redundant, and unnecessary. Many lines tell us what is happening instead of showing the message by emoting it silently or expressing it through other means. Which effectively pulled me out of the story, leaving me checking the clock to see when it would end.

Cryo is a grab bag of the interesting and the awkward. The story is excellent, but other film elements distract from it. It isn’t particularly fear-inducing, but it does offer a thought-provoking insight into the human mind. If ever locked in a cryosleep chamber, let’s hope we don’t wake up with these characters as our only company. I don’t think any of us would make it out alive.

Cryo premiered at the Chattanooga Film Festival on June 24, alongside its theatrical release and premieres today on Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services.



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