January 29, 2021

SHOWBUZZDAILY Virtual Sundance Reviews: “Human Factors,” “Cryptozoo” & “How It Ends”


HUMAN FACTORS:  Is Ronny Trocker’s Human Factors intended as a political allegory?  The married couple at its center are the German Jan (Mark Waschke) and the French Nina (Sabine Timoteo), and there’s a plot point about whether the ad agency they run will take on a political party as a client.  If that’s the case, though, it didn’t get through to this US viewer.  What we do get is similar to Force Majeure and its remake Downhill, in that it centers on a momentary incident that has lasting consequences to a family.  However, it lacks both the wit of the original and the silliness of the US version.  (The tone seems rather more informed by the dark bourgeois landscapes of Michael Haneke.)  In this case, the incident is a burglary at the vacation home of Jan, Nina and their three children that was witnessed only by Nina, and Human Factors jumps back and forth in time to show each character’s impression of the event, including–in the film’s one suggestion of humor–from the family’s pet rat.  Human Factors intelligently depicts the way small family ripples can lead to tidal waves, but it never develops any of its characters with much depth, and Trocker doesn’t make a case for why this inciting event is more interesting than any other might be.  Nothing ever quite breathes life into the film’s careful structure.

CRYPTOZOO:  Dash Shaw’s adult animation (the visuals themselves were directed by Jane Samborski) seems to be a natural candidate for cult favorite status, and very possibly even as that 5th Oscar nominee every year for Best Animated Film that isn’t as widely distributed as the other big-studio four.  It’s both an adventure story and a high-minded reverie on how humans should treat other species, and if the pieces don’t fully fit into a satisfying whole, it’s not for lack of imagination and effort.  Cryptozoo posits a world where magical creatures like the unicorn, kraken and pegasus are real, but mostly hidden from the mortal world.  Set in the 1960s, it teams a human vet (voiced by Lake Bell) with a gorgon (Angeliki Papoulia) and a hippie (Louise Krause) to protect a baku, a creature that the military wants to use to suck the idealistic dreams out of the minds of members of the anti-Vietnam War counterculture.  Our heroines plan to keep the baku in a cryptozoo, a cross between a refuge for hunted mythical beasts and an amusement park. But even with the best intentions, is that the way the baku and other such wondrous beings should be treated?  Cryptozoo wants to explore that question, while also providing some Jurassic Park-type action sequences.  Shaw’s ambitious exceed his script at times, which tends to some tinny dialogue and setpieces that don’t fully commit to providing audience pleasure.  Mainstream audiences may also find that the animation, while often striking and beautiful, lacks the polish and scope that hundreds of millions of studio dollars will buy.  Nevertheless, there may well be a passionate viewership for Cryptozoo and its mix of ethereal ideas with Hollywood thrills.

HOW IT ENDS:  Filmmakers Daryl Wein and Zoe-Lister-Jones are Sundance veterans, both separately and together, and if nothing else, How It Ends is certainly a Sundance experience.  Conceived and produced under COVID–and with the exception of one scene near the end, photographed somewhat awkwardly with most of the actors at social distances from one another, except for the two leads and actors who are real-life couples–the story takes place on the last day before the world is going to come to an end.  In this case, it’s not a pandemic but an asteroid that’s going to finish us off, and the loose framework of the story is that Liza (Lister-Jones) is making her way toward a end-of-world party, existentially walking across Los Angeles (her car has been stolen, because why not on the last day of the planet) and coming into contact with people close to her as well as other random oddballs, each for a brief scene.  She’s accompanied by the physical embodiment of her younger self (Cailee Spaeney), while the people they encounter are cast with an entire season’s worth of primetime TV, from Bradley Whitford and Helen Hunt to Whitney Cummings, Paul Scheer and Nick Kroll.  The result is naturally episodic, in some cases effectively (Olivia Wilde and Lister-Jones spark off each other nicely) but often in a rambling, semi-improvised way that feels more like a hang than a story.  When it comes time to head toward a point, the presence of Liza’s physical younger self provides a very literal realization of the eternal Sundance themes of coming to terms with one’s past and future.  The message seems to be that Earth may come to a catastrophic end, but film festival tropes will last forever.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."