Kryptic (2024)

Kryptic had its World Première at the SXSW 2024

“It means the study of the hidden,” says tour guide Cooper (Ryan Beil) near the beginning of Kourtney Roy’s feature debut Kryptic, written by Paul Bromley. Cooper is explaining to his group – the Cedar Springs Women’s Walking Club – what cryptozoology is, as he tells them about the mysterious disappearance of cryptozoologist Barb Valentine in this very part of the British Columbian hinterland as she was hunting for “a tall, bipedal creature” of local legend known as the Sooka, said to cause “metaphysical disturbances that have allegedly tampered with the space-time continuum of a few unlucky souls.” One woman in this hiking party comments, “Probably just up and left, pissed at her man,” which makes the other women laugh – but grave-faced Kay Hall (Chloe Pirrie), introverted and uncomfortable in her own skin, strays from the group and disappears too, having her own alien encounter in the woods. 

Just as the assembled women and their guide start giving up hope of Kay’s return, she emerges to rejoin them – but she is a changed person, no longer herself, having to check her ID to remember who she is and where she lives, looking alienated even when back in her own home and unable to remember what she does for a living (“I’m a fucking vet!?”, she exclaims upon seeing her workplace). As someone – or something – tries to break into the house, Kay flees to her car, and sets off looking for answers by trying to retrace the last known steps of the missing Barb, whose disappearance is still being publicly grieved by her husband Morgan (Jeff Gladstone). Kay assumes – correctly – that her own odd, disorienting experiences must have something in common with Barb’s.

This journey will take Kay through the backwoods of southwestern British Columbia, where she will share cocktails with the motelier Sally Antoine (Patti Allan), will compare notes with the amateur cryptozoologist Starla Northstar (Pam Kearns) whose daughter Diane (Vera Arthur) also disappeared in the woods, and will dance with a drunken ex-magician (Jennifer Copping) who gifts her a glittery stage cloak that, she says, “used to make me feel I could be anyone I wanted – it always made me feel like I could do anything I goddam pleased”. Kay will also track down Johnette (Christina Lewall) who claims to have seen the creature trying forcefully to enter her trailer, and party with Johnette’s trans daughter Sasha (Ali Rusu-Tahir), who shares Kay’s sense of alienation.

Throughout this time, Kay suffers blackouts and bouts of somnambulism, and has visions of icky, impressionistic congress with a creature not unlike the insatiable id monsters from Amat Escalante’s The Untamed (2016) or Alejandro Fadel’s Murder Me, Monster (2018). While Kay mostly seeks and keeps company with other women, occasionally she will also cross paths with sexually aggressive men (a bartender, Johnette’s boyfriend) whose presence always seem to trigger her hallucinations – until finally she will have simultaneously to face and flee some home truths.

If Barb was, as Sally puts it, “like a chameleon”, then so is Kay, slipping into all manner of social milieux and costumes in a quest both to solve the mystery of what happened to Barb, and to find herself. These are Lynchian territories, mapped out by the tour guide’s name, by regular cutaways to a vista of twin peaks, by a protagonist who is a woman in trouble and in fugue, by the uncanny presence of doppelgängers and by a narrative that doubles back on itself in an involuted, Möbian structure without beginning or end. Here there may be a multidimensional creature “from the superspectrum” that travels through portals in the woods, but perhaps the real monster lives closer to home, in the abusive, oppressive structures of white picket-fence patriarchy, where ‘Blue Vale Lake’ is not so very far from Blue Velvet

This is what makes Kryptic as much a ‘good for her’ revenge story as a monster movie, where close attention is required to chart the precise coordinates of Kay’s picaresque, escapist walk on the wild side – and on the margins. “Being on the road,” as Sally Antoine puts it, “nothing beats it. No baggage and shit can be a truly liberating thing. Yet is there really any getting away from what our addled heroine seeks to flee, or is she just going in circles in her bid to break free? Trying to work out that conundrum and to square that circle is the challenge presented by this radical reimagining of the Little Red Riding Hood myth. For here too, a girl is lost in the woods, there are disguises and camouflage on all sides, and something monstrous and hidden is waiting to break through.

strap: Kourtney Roy’s (creature?) feature debut tracks a Lynchian woman lost in the woods on a confused search for a missing cyptozoologist

© Anton Bitel