Michael Ward on Friday, August 16
Though it unfortunately writes itself into a corner it doesn’t quite know how to get out of, the diabolical horror-thriller Koko-di Koko-da bruises when it connects the anguish of guilt, loss, grief, and despair to a couple teetering on the verge of dissolution in a hopeless, fantastical scenario.
The mechanism which binds husband and wife, Tobias (Leif Edlund) and Elin (Ylva Gallon) to a nightmarish time-loop they cannot escape from is the tragic death of their daughter Maja (Katarina Jacobson). After a disquieting prologue sets the movie in motion, we re-connect some years later with the still-married couple heading out for a camping trip. To say they are having a problem getting along is something of an understatement.
The stress and anxiety only intensifies when Tobias insists on camping anywhere he chooses, rather than stay in the bed and breakfast Elin is pushing for. After getting settled in an open space, deep in the woods, the next morning Elin wakes Tobias asking for assistance as she needs to go to the bathroom and doesn’t want to leave the tent because of a large amount of mosquitoes buzzing around outside. Tobias’ refusal causes Elin to venture out and encounter a traveling trio of strangers who unleash their attack. At the moment Tobias is to be killed, we return to the tent. Elin is nervous about mosquitoes and asks Tobias for help and the story repeats from there over and over again.
The second feature from writer/director Johannes Nyholm is all over the map in terms of narrative tone, but nails down a constant unsettling, creepy vibe throughout the entire film. His mördare triad consists of the white-suited, top-hat, cane wielding Mog (Peter Belli), a giant beastly man named Sampo (Morad Katchadorian), and a steely-eyed, tall, intense woman named Cherry (Brandy Litmanen).
With no backstory as to their existence, they simply appear randomly within the time-loop. Mog sings and/or whistles a nursery rhyme-style ditty that incorporates the film’s title into the lyrics. Sampo has ungodly strength, Cherry brandishes a pistol. All of them bring bad intent. A pit bull is trained to attack to kill. A second dog, deceased, is inexplicably carried around by Sampo everywhere they go. A white cat seems to foretell their impending arrival.
Weird and eccentric might be words that best describe Koko-di Koko-da, but Nyholm’s exploring some very real emotional entanglements here. This is illustrated, quite literally, with some astonishing shadow and puppet work, comprising two scenes where Tobias and Elin’s back story is shown to us behind a velvet red curtain. Somewhere David Lynch is likely smiling.
In all fairness, not every time loop scene works effectively, as Tobias seems to recognize that he controls the actions within each loop, Nyholm unfortunately snuffs out the opportunity for the couple to truly work together to try and solve their situation. Though isolation is a theme explored in the film, especially as it relates to unspoken and suppressed pain and grief existing within a broken relationship, Tobias’ awareness of what’s happening, and Elin’s failure to recognize the time-loop structure is an odd choice.
Regardless, Koko-di Koko-da will hang around with you for awhile. Even if Nyholm left a potentially more interesting story out of his script, the atmosphere he creates, along with a few marvelously composed moments and sequences will resonate.
Warning: People with a sensitivity to violence committed by animals or animals injured in any way should be warned that Koko-di Koko-da has some potential scenes that may prove difficult to watch.