Cryo — Barrett Burgin
Before We Vanish by Morris Yang Film

Cryo — Barrett Burgin

June 30, 2022

Cryo hints early on at a future-facing work of exhilarating promise and peril, but is ultimately cloaked in a calcified slab of ice.

Barrett Burgin’s Cryo opens with video footage, seductively tinctured in ruby red, of an old man recording what might be a valediction to his time in this world. “Do you know the first Bible story I heard as a boy? Lazarus — raised from the dead.” Naturally, this foreshadows and foregrounds what is to come: the farewell enunciated in these brief seconds ominously implies a return sometime ahead, either of the past into the future, or of the future into the past. Thus emerge five individuals, seemingly unrelated, out of cold deep sleep and into an underground facility of sorts. The setting is discernible, and the suspense distinct enough: having lost their memories, but recalling vaguely their participation in a cryonic experiment designed to push the limits of human preservation, the five of them — soon segmented into their (presumed) roles hitherto: an engineer, a doctor, a soldier, a biologist, and a psychologist — fight to comprehend the mystery of their predicament and their way forward, all while suspicious happenings transpire and the crew are picked off one by one.

What follows can be justifiably categorized as a curious amalgam of conceptual precocity and practical insufferability; Cryo, for all its apparent fixation on the eponymous technology, neglects the flesh beneath the frozen top. Structured inconsistently as a study of group paranoia at one moment and a thesis on scientific hubris in another, its core chassis recalls the many cultural predecessors it swipes copious DNA from — Alien, The Thing, and, given several unfortunate though likely unintended allusions to circuits and currents, the endlessly parodied gameplay of Among Us. Yet despite these knowing markers, Burgin’s setup and execution are, in their various moments, missing continuity and creativity. The suspicions among the five ragtag clichés (smart enough to be selected for cryo-preservation but too stupid to distinguish between psychology and “psychoanalysis”) are drawn out for close to the film’s entire runtime, while — conversely — quite a few chunks of Cryo resemble decent student-film excerpts rather than an organically synthesized whole. (Sure, it’s Burgin’s directorial debut and the feature was developed out of thesis-film fodder, but still…)

Credit should be given to the film’s production value, which, all things considered, actually hits the mark (somewhat) as a decent exposition of the genre’s constant anxieties: hallucinations, uncharted waters, the irreducible gap between scientific proof and philosophical skepticism, etc. As mentioned, were Cryo a whole half-truncated, or composed of discrete shorts each thematizing interrelated concepts of yore and forevermore, the outcome would be much more striking and perhaps even novel. It’s a bit of a waste, really, because this is a film whose teleology obviously doesn’t spell “Cable Cuts” or, more aptly, “Leftovers: Thaw Before Heating.” Sadly, even “precocious” undermines itself, evincing the film’s inherent immaturity; chock full of religious tidbits unabashedly sprinkled, and culminating in an inexplicable plot twist that can only be said to have conjured two immediate thoughts — cheap mise en abyme and the “Do You Know Who Else Suffers From Dementia?” meme — in this viewer’s head, Cryo doesn’t live up to its opening first minute, if it can be said to live at all. Where futurist narratives tend to transplant age-old specters into the distant, tech-enhanced time beyond today, this one cloaks the exhilarating promises and perils of the future in a calcified slab of ice.

Published as part of Before We Vanish — June 2022.