DIRECTED BY: Johannes Nyholm
FEATURING: Leif Edlund, Ylva Gallon, Peter Belli, Brandy Litmanen, Morad Khatchadorian
PLOT: Three years after the death of their daughter, Tobias and Elin go on a joyless camping holiday; a trio of otherworldly psychopaths interrupts their first night—again and again.
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Heart-rending shadow-style animation coexists with some of the cruelest nightmare denizens to be found in a cryptic forest milieu. There’s also the lurking white cat guiding the way toward salvation.
COMMENTS: Last night I did something I had never done before: I attended the second screening of Johannes Nyholm’s Koko-di Koko-da. Frankly, I had to. After the first screening, during which at least four people walked out, there was a deafening silence as the credits began rolling. A few rows ahead of me, I spied a young woman raising her hands to applaud, only then noticing that everyone else—at least everyone who had remained—was seated in a rapt silence. Upon exiting the theater, the discussions between me and my reviewer friends immediately began. Two didn’t care for it, two had fallen under its spell, and a fifth could not yet express her opinion. It was, for sure, the most divisive film I’ve encountered this festival.
We meet an unsettling trio of travelers in the woods. A sinister dandy of a man (Peter Belli) sings softly while leading a strange young woman with a leashed dog and a giant of a fellow carrying a dead white dog. Then, the one happy part of the film: Tobias (Leif Edlund) and Elyn (Ylva Gallon) are out celebrating their daughter’s birthday—done up in bunny makeup for dinner. But Elyn gets food poisoning from some mussels. They camp out at the hospital, and when the parents arise the next morning to sing birthday greetings to their daughter, they find that she died in the night. “Three Years Later” we find the couple again, sniping at each other on their way to a camping holiday. They spend a restless night, and the next morning are set upon by the strange gang from the opening sequence. Again, and again.
I have seen time loops a-plenty, but the cruel, repeated turns of events make Koko-di Koko-da stand out from among its Groundhogian peers. The subtle shifts in climax from doomed encounter to doomed encounter exhibit a psychological nastiness that suggests the director aims to be as unkind to his audience as he is to his characters. But there is a beauty in his movie that rests surprisingly well alongside the surrounding trauma. The two animated shadow-sequences involving two bunnies losing their child, then destroying a (pointedly symbolic) rooster, have an aura of magic tinged with sadness. These accentuate the barbarity found in the encounters with the trio of eerie horrors.
Put simply, I loved this movie, and I knew this immediately upon finishing it for the first time. Generally I can talk about the intellectual reasons I really like something, but here I found myself affected more on a visceral level. I spoke with two of the fellows who walked out, and I couldn’t blame them; the wringer this movie puts the audience through is very trying. But, for those of you who click with this bad dream, there is the reward of intoxicating relief and exhilaration. And like Koko-di Koko-da‘s mystical story, its haunting tune will cling to your memory.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…von Trier’s Antichrist meeting Groundhog Day in laconic and absurdist Scandi poetics.”–Martin Kudlak, Screen Anarchy (festival screening)
3 thoughts on “APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: KOKO-DI, KOKO-DA (2019)”
For October, I’m watching 31 Horror films (hopefully plenty of weird ones) and this is the first I picked to watch.
Not sure if I liked it or not but it definitely is unsettling! The three villains (even ignoring the horrible stuff they do) really make you realise how uncanny and sinister nursey rhyme characters (who seem childishly innocent when drawn) would appear in real life.
Reflecting on it, I think the obnoxious caricature of a couple at the party at the beginning are so bizarrely out of place with the rest of the film that for me they are the weirdest bit.
Caught up with this recently via the BFI Player here in the UK and…oh my. Obviously I’m as hard as nails, but this one really got to me (and strangely it was the shadow puppet sequences which really did me in, I definitely seemed to get something in my eye at that point). A haunting and extraordinary film, like a dramatisation of the unconscious processing deep trauma. I can imagine someone having that dream and waking up feeling that something had shifted on a deep emotional level.
As an aside, I think the obnoxious couple John mentions are entertainers at the restaurant. So weird, but no weirder than any other cheesy cabaret act, maybe. I hope this film makes the list.
Ah that makes sense, yeah in context not so weird characters as I first thought. I was thinking they were fellow customers and the most tonally misplaced characters ever!