March 18, 2021 Koko-di Koko-da (Movie Review)
A white cat and a music box, a sideshow artist and his shady entourage, and a tragedy that splits a couple’s world apart. These oddly juxtaposed elements come together to formulate the new Fantasy Horror offering Koko-di Koko-da, a Shudder Exclusive that begins streaming on Thursday, March 18, 2021 thanks Dark Star Pictures.
There are a lot of films out there right now, but it’s pretty safe to say that none are quite like Koko-di Koko-da. Written and directed by Johannes Nyholm (Las Palmas short 2011, The Giant 2016), this is an 85-minute exercise in metaphor over tension or intrigue. A film that defies genre, it is an exploration of the cyclical nature of grief and the tumultuous toll that loss can impart upon a relationship as well as each individual.
The entire story kicks off with the tragic death of a little girl (Katarina Jakobson: The Music Box short 2017, Fasad short 2019), a loss that leaves her parents, Tobias (Leif Edlund: A Matter of Life and Death mini-series, Operation Ragnarok 2018) and Elin (Ylva Gallon: Pure 2010, HIM 2021), at an emotional crossroads. In an attempt to save their relationship, and in hopes of discovering a panacea for their grief, the pair head into the forest for a camping excursion.
However, instead of finding a magical cure the couple encounters a bizarre three-person carnival: master of ceremonies Mog (Danish singer-actor Peter Belli: We Shall Overcome 2006, Journey to Saturn 2008), strongman Sampo (Morad Baloo Khatchadorian: Skills 2010, Easy Money III: Life Deluxe 2013), and Pitbull-wielding Cherry (Brandy Litmanen: Spacerabbit short 2015).
What follows is form over function, with a story that repeatedly cycles back on itself to metaphorically explore the stages of grief; it is a symbolic exercise, one that is not meant to be viewed as a specific, linear tale. Which is the polarizing core of Koko-di Koko-da: Does the average Shudder viewer wish to embark on a journey that, while emotionally gripping, lacks in a cohesive narrative?
Presented in Danish and Swedish with English subtitles, the film stands as an artistic depiction of the struggle to overcome personal trauma. Though not lacking in any particular facet of its production, particularly its beautifully minimalist score by Olof Cornéer and Simon Ohlsson, Koko-di Koko-da is a languid and repetitious tale that is borne from the filmic cliché of a couple losing their only child. While other films with this premise fight to build tension and aim to offer a truly show-stopping and often gory crescendo, Nyholm’s take meanders languidly until it reaches a conclusion that is all part and parcel of its symbolism.
In this, the film is many things but it is not a Horror film in the general sense of the term. Imbued with emotional turmoil and several maulings for good measure, Nyholm peppers his visuals with provocative moments to force a reaction out of audiences, though these instances are far from his purpose. Thus, while there are cringe-worthy moments that will disturb some filmgoers, there is nothing that parallels the Saw franchise here; Nyholm’s intention is far from finding gruesome new ways to sever limbs from torsos. Rather, he is a devout disciple of symbolic imagery, offering his viewers an endless array of visual portents and allegorical cues. For those that appreciate this masterful artistry, it is an approach that will yield new treasures with each successive viewing.
That said, in its finest moments, Nyholm’s latest often has a childlike simplicity that delivers a hefty emotional toll through carefully crafted puppetry. However, as an entirety, it is a genre-defying film that serves one purpose and one purpose only: to relay its metaphorical messages on grief and how we process our trauma. There’s not always a consistency from shot to shot, there’s a whole lot of Edlund running around in his tighty-whities, and that elegant white cat is likely to haunt you long after the film ends. Still, we’re just not sure that any of this can hold the average moviegoer’s attention for the duration, which makes Koko-di Koko-da an extremely niche film. For this, Cryptic Rock gives the film 3.5 of 5 stars.