Chattanooga Film Festival 2022: Cryo Is a Twisty Chilly Thriller

Image courtesy of The Chattanooga Film Festival

Cryonics is the science of preserving a human being in a state of suspended stasis. Why would you do this? Maybe a loved one is dying of a disease, and a cure is coming but not fast enough. Maybe they’re suffering from a horrible wound that could potentially be healed in the future. Or perhaps, you’re a lover of turn-of-the-century cartoons, and you look forward to sharing an apartment with a foul-mouthed robot that calls you meatbag. Regardless, cryonics doesn’t necessarily work yet, and, as fringe science, it’s had very little success. However, it does make for an interesting science-fiction horror plot in Barrett Burgin’s Cryo. 

The poster for Cryo shows a woman trapped in an ice cube with wires coming out of it

In Cryo, a handful of scientists awaken in an underground bunker without memories of themselves or each other. With only the numbers on their jumpsuits to call each other by, the five begin piecing together things about their jobs and why they woke up there. When one of them recalls building the cryonics chambers the crew wakes up in, he assesses that they must be the team assembled to test the chambers. The group ascertains that this situation must be irregular because no protocols to greet them or help them recover their identities are being followed. Determining the chambers have to be opened manually and waking up to the sound of a gunshot, the crew begins investigating the bunker, only to assume there may be a killer in the bunker with them and it’s likely a member of the group. 

Group dynamics are at the heart of the film, and paranoia arises from the unknowns. A camera hidden in the wall, an airlock to the outside that suggests a poisonous atmosphere, and a blood-covered floor are only part of the mystery. As the crew begins regaining their memories, they begin to see visions of each other that don’t make sense. This leads one of them to think they’re predicting the future, though it feels like they’re reliving a nightmare.  

From the start, Cryo has a unique look. While many of the backgrounds resemble a partially finished basement, director Barrett Burgin rotates the spaces, injecting enough red and blue neon to award Cryo a tense atmosphere and sense of danger in these tight spaces. Chattanooga Film Festival runner Chris Dortch remarked while introducing the film that Cryo was a student film project that Burgin turned into a two-hour opus. Though clearly having some low-budget characteristics, the movie is superbly made and looks fantastic. Had Dortch not mentioned the fact, I’d never have considered it wasn’t made by a well-established indie production company. 

004, 002, and 003 stand in front of a stone wall with a light behind them

The acting in the film is rather good, too. While most of the cast is relatively unknown, the performances and commitment to their characters by the ensemble is something they should all take pride in. Cryo’s crew of numbers and job titles are led by Jyllian Petrie, who offers a lot of charisma as the POV character, and similar things can be said for all involved. Emily Marie Palmer, Morgan Gunter, Curt Doussett, and Mason D. Davis also operate with specific characteristics aptly applied to their professional titles, much like the board game featured in the movie, Clue. 

Cryo is a mystery thriller brimming with suspense, and it will keep you guessing. Every time I thought I had it figured out, the puzzle shifted and left me scratching my head. At about the hour mark, I had most of it wrapped up, but the ending still left me with an extra twist that was a supremely nice touch, offering themes of impermanence with heartbreaking effect. Burgin wrote Cryo with Mason D. Davis, who plays 004 in the film, and while it is a rotating puzzle box of intrigue to marvel at, the film itself could benefit from a few cuts and tighter sequences. While I enjoy the patience the film has, a few scenes tend to run on longer than necessary. 

Nonetheless, there are some particularly great scenes in the film. One early on portrays the newly awoken group eating, laughing, and playing Clue in front of an old television set while old-timey music plays. The scenery is almost straight out of the video game Fallout 4, with the victrola and the television placed in this bunkered living room scene, but the action here takes its cue from Alien. That moment just before John Hurt has his chest burst in Ridley Scott’s famous sci-fi horror film is mimicked wonderfully, with Clue used as a meta-reference for the group’s circumstance in hunting the killer among them. The use of The Divine Comedy and the nine circles of hell are also excellent touches as the bunker’s chaos unfolds. 

A man with sits a cry chamber with a flesh wound on his chest in
Image courtesy of Saban Films

I was very excited about Cryo, writing about the film’s trailer a few months ago, long before I knew it would play at Chattanooga Film Festival. After seeing it, I think Burgin has a natural eye for crafting a movie, and his patience will pay off in future stories he tells. Cryo has many moving pieces, some entertaining, some frustrating, and some lengthy. Cryo ends up losing some points by being a bit too slow in some areas, but it still makes for an entertaining experience I ultimately enjoyed having. Any film that knows how to feather its clues in and keep me guessing as I try to crack its code is a worthwhile experience for me. 

This trend of whodunnit horror titles that have emerged in the last couple of years has been a spectacular and welcome addition. Werewolves Within, Cryo, and the soon-to-be-released Bodies Bodies Bodies provide Holmesian mysteries to an audience that has been satiated by true crime stories and fancies themselves sleuths. Cryo is a bit more noirish than most, reminding me of a 2006 crime film called Unknown, which has a similar premise of people waking up in a warehouse without their memories. The film also draws a visual comparison to Event Horizon and Pandorum.  

Cryo was recently purchased by Saban Films, is currently playing in Los Angeles theaters, and should be released on VOD later this month. Still, you can catch it through Tuesday by buying a ticket at the Chattanooga Film Festival. Many films are having their world premieres this weekend, like The Ones You Didn’t Burn and The Leech. Plus, there are over thirty other films to see with a badge from now through Tuesday.

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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