A couple, grieving the loss of their child, goes on a camping trip to try and reconnect. Their vacation simply spirals out of control when they find themselves stuck in a murderous time loop with three sideshow characters.
Shudder has been providing a platform for international horror films in the past few years. Now, it’s bringing audiences a bizarre Swedish film, Koko-di Koko-da. Written and directed by Johannes Nyholm (The Giant), this film begins by introducing us to a couple who loses their daughter. Three years later, their marriage is crumbling so they decide to go on a camping trip in a last-ditch effort to fix their relationship. Unfortunately, the couple becomes entangled in a strange time loop, forced to die at the hands of three odd characters over and over again in different ways. The entire film essentially becomes a metaphor for being trapped in your grief and survivor’s guilt. The couple have to find a way to break free of that cycle of grief and loss in order to move on and, in this extreme case, survive.
The metaphor of grief in Koko-di Koko-da is one we have seen in horror before, but Nyholm makes an effort to make this film more unique. The most obvious way this is done is by keeping the characters in a time loop. Nyholm also chose to add three unsavory characters, who look like they belong in a circus, to carry out horrific acts. Yet these characters are also meant to be comedic relief in the otherwise serious, drama-driven film. The comedy is meant to be very slapstick, but for me the laughs fell flat. It was a very specific choice to incorporate comedy into this film and unfortunately the attempt at laughs thrown into very violent scenes ends up coming across more crass than humorous. It’s a delicate balance to be able to tell this kind of story with humor in it. Some people will enjoy the comedic elements of Koko-di Koko-da while others will feel it detracts from the plot.
Even if the tone of the film doesn’t always work, the performances are still great. Leif Edlund (Operation Ragnarok, The Giant) plays Tobias alongside Ylva Gallon (Pure, HIM) as Elin. Individually, these two actors are wonderful, but it’s when the two are together that they truly shine. At the beginning of the film there is a clear connection between the couple. After the death of their daughter, the divide between Tobias and Elin is so wide you can practically see it. Gallon and Edlund excel at showing the different ways people grieve and how loss can create a chasm between people, even if they love each other. Shout out to the trio of villains, Peter Belli (Truly Human), Brandy Litmanen (Spacerabbit), and Morad Baloo Khatchadorian (Skills), for being absolutely unsettling from the moment they appear on screen.
A lot went into the film to give it a dark, twisted fairy tale look and feel. Much of the film is meant to be the physical embodiment of the daughter’s music box. It’s the same song, the same story, being told over and over again on an endless loop. Even the villains of Koko-di Koko-da appear on the music box. It’s a great comparison to show how the couple is stuck in a vicious cycle of grief by building the world of the music box all around them. For the most part, even the music is restricted to the very disturbing nursery rhyme song. The clothes and styling of the villains also adds to the dark fairy tale aesthetic. The filmmakers also incorporate some gorgeous shadow puppetry. In the end, the visual storytelling elements end up being the highlight of the film.
Koko-di Koko-da takes a stab at creating a twisted modern fairy tale about grief, but detracts from that side of the story with crude humor that doesn’t land. I appreciate Nyholm’s vision and commend much of the film. It is something I can imagine many horror fans falling in love with. It manages to be a strange blend of films such as The Babadook and A Clockwork Orange, but fails to find a good middle ground for the story of grief to meet the comedy. Luckily, the performances are strong and the visuals are even stronger. One thing is for sure, love it or hate it, this film is a memorable watch that is sure to spark interesting conversations between genre film fans.
OVERALL RATING: 5/10