A married couple attempts a camping trip, the first vacation they’ve had since an outing to celebrate their daughter’s birthday. There is no child, now. They’re alone, despondent, and aggravated as they twist through backroads before stopping at an unmarked field and setting up their tent. In this field and its surrounding area, they’ll die time and time again as the morning repeats itself, all while struggling to face and cope with the loss of their child.
Director: Johannes Nyholm
Release Date: September, 22 2019 (Fantastic Fest), November, 2019 (Limited)
An eerie, childish tune sung by a man dressed like a carnival barker edited with dreamy dissolves ushers us into the world of Koko-di Koko-da. The Babadook, but with the storybook elements turned way up and an added dash of Twin Peaks, this very grim fairy tale creates a mood at once vibrant and dark, lyrical and grueling.
Each repeated day sees wife Elin (Ylva Gallon) wake with a need to pee. The first morning, she leaves to do her business in the bushes when she’s suddenly attacked by a uni-browed giant and his vicious dog. He’s a member of a sort of sideshow trio that only exists to abuse and murder the married couple. Their leader, the carnival barker from the opening, dances and sings while drawing imaginary lines from the barrel of a pistol to husband Tobias’s (Leif Edlund) groin, adding a touch of slapstick to punctuate their brutality. The two die that morning only to wake again–only to die again. Rinse, repeat. Unlike other flicks akin to Groundhog Day, the couple here have little more than troubled dreams and premonitions that something awful is about to happen. This creates a more erratic edge between the two as Tobias struggles to overcome his own cowardice and Elin struggles to to trust him. This isn’t a film of clever plans and trial-and-error so much as repeated suffering. The plot itself is loose and spare.
Minimally animated sequences coat the film with a simple fable, painting the couple as a pair of rabbits acting through the sort of symbolic separation as they cage a colorful bird and watch it molt and decay, all in a paper cutout fashion fit for a children’s story book. At every turn Koko-di Koko-da flirts with a morbid playfulness.
Even without these sequences, Koko-di Koko-da is wonderfully framed while working with the minimal settings of a tent, a car, and the woods. The use of fog, selective lighting, sudden cuts, moody edits, and strange imagery add layers of ambience. A white cat’s sudden appearance, an eerie rundown house just behind the woods, and the torturous trio give glimpses of the unreal hiding within the grounded setting. The leads’ performances are natural, the dialogue terse and human. The absurd horror of their suffering matched to their truly anguished reactions only makes their ordeal all the more haunting.
With an ending as spare and bleak as its setup, Koko-di Koko-da is a sad and brutal walk through some very dark woods. It’s minimal and memorable with details well worth exploring across multiple viewings.