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Koko-di Koko-da
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by Jay Seaver

"Some horrors are inescapable."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I spent a little time talking about what one could do with time loops when discussing another film that played this same festival, "The Incredible Shrinking Wknd", and watching "Koko-di koko-da" (the last syllable of which is pronounced "day") in such close succession was a fascinating example of how the same seemingly limited device could be used to different ends. This one, in particular, is impressive for how it manages to remain harrowing even when the viewer can reasonably expect what they see to be erased.

It opens with a small family - father Tobias (Leif Edlund), mother Elin (Ylva Gallon), and daughter Maja (Katarina Jakobson) - on a camping outing to celebrate Maja's 8th birthday. It's a fun outing, with Maja's face made up like a bunny, until something makes Elin violently ill while they're on the road far from a hospital. It looks like it's going to be fine, but then things take a turn. Three years pass before they take another camping trip, which seems ill-advised even without the characters straight out of nasty folklore that keep turning up.

The bulk of that happens within the first ten minutes or so, and while most who see it will likely come in with a little more idea of what's going on than someone building a full day's festival schedule without being too picky about it, it's still built to pull the rug out from the audience early enough that talking about the work of the cast may be seen as SPOILERS. The small core cast is reliably terrific, sketching out a good baseline so that the devastated versions of the characters that we see for the rest of the film exist in sharp relief. Lief Edlund is especially good, creating different flavors of desperation as his anxiety from the potential collapse of his family is pushed into heightened territory. It's a fine match for Ylva Gallon, who spends the back half of the movie making sure that the audience sees that Elin is a raw nerve with no idea how to direct what she's feeling. They get all the room they need to demonstrate this, with the rest of the cast creating memorable adversaries that never detract from the stars.

As they shouldn't; this is not a film about that sort of monster. Instead, Johannes Nyholm has made a film that plunges into the despair of grief on multiple fronts, and the combination of the contrast with "before", the Groundhog Day-style time loop that traps you in a fearful place, and the perversion of something mostly-unrelated into something you can no longer abide is something that rings true even as it also feels like too much. In some ways, even the things that don't quite fit feel like they have meaning by highlighting the contradiction: Even as time resets, for example, the seasons change, so that this is both a place where the family feels stuck and one where the repetition does not mean they can escape quickly from any perspective. The movie can be a grim sit, and for some the repeated violence is going to be too extreme even as a representation of traumatic emotions. (End of spoilers)

It is, by the end, clear where the film is going, but it certainly can seem like overkill as things become gruesome. And then, at other times, it doesn't seem like too much, and there's this weird ethereal beauty to the horror it represents, an exquisite pain or a fleeting glimpse of something better. The extended shadow-puppet sequences, for instance, are dark as can be but also feel like people struggling and healing. There's humanity to the film's monsters, if not too much, and something sad but real about the characters trying to readjust to something normal. For all that this movie can occasionally be too much, it doesn't leap straight over being effective on its way there.

The sense of being unable to escape from a terrible moment or feeling makes this sort of story a potent metaphor but also a trap, because the situation calls for audiences to examine their situation without it becoming a puzzle. It's a line Nyholm walks extremely well, even as he creates a film that is eerie on top of being scary. It's the rare film to have a foot in both the festival's arthouse and horror sections, fitting just as well in each.

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originally posted: 06/06/20 12:03:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2019 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2019 Fantastic Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  28-Feb-2020 (18)


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