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New Release Review - KOKO-DI KOKO-DA

koko-di koko-da review
A grieving husband and wife are forced to endure a nightmarish loop on a trip to the woods.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Johannes Nyholm

Starring: Leif Edlund, Peter Belli, Morad Baloo Khatchadorian, Brandy Litmanen

koko-di koko-da poster


Last year, an American horror movie whose protagonist struggles with intense grief while enduring terror in the Swedish wilderness premiered at Cannes and quickly became one of 2019's critical darlings. Ironically, a Swedish horror movie whose protagonist struggles with intense grief while enduring terror in the Swedish wilderness had premiered a few months prior at Sundance. The wrong movie got all the attention, thanks largely to the cultural dominance of the English language, but viewers can now finally experience director Johannes Nyholm's Koko-di Koko-da, a feature length expansion of his 2017 short The Music Box, and which incorporates his 2009 animated short Dreams from the Woods. If you need a humanistic Scandinavian corrective to the cynical American absolutism of Midsommar, boy is this the movie for you.

Koko-di Koko-da takes its title from a popular European children's ditty, whose haunting tune emerges from a music box to haunt the film's protagonists, and the audience along with them. The music box is discovered by young Maja (Katarina Jakobson) on the eve of her eighth birthday and subsequently purchased as a gift by her young parents, Elin (Ylva Gallon) and Tobias (Leif Edlund), while on a family trip to Sweden. When Elin falls ill, the family is forced to spend the night tucked up together in a hospital bed. Waking the next morning to celebrate her birthday, Elin and Tobias are shocked to discover their daughter has passed away during the night.

koko-di koko-da review


Cut to three years later, and now back in their native Sweden, Elin and Tobias are embarking on a camping trip in the woods. As they drive out to the secluded rural spot they've selected, it becomes clear that all is not well in their relationship. Passive aggressive jibes are passed back and forth like ticking letter bombs, and the bickering continues on into the night and into the cramped environs of their hastily erected tent. When Elin leaves in the middle of the night to relieve herself in the woods, she is set upon by three strangers - a small man dressed in the white attire of a vaudevillian, a circus strongman and a tall woman with straggly black hair. They're the physical manifestations of the characters seen on Maja's music box, accompanied by an angry black dog and the limp body of a dead white dog. Rather than rushing to his wife's aid, Tobias is struck by fear and cowers in his tent, until he too is attacked by the trio.

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In the fashion of Groundhog Day, Tobias is woken up by Elin, who lets him know that she badly needs to pee. Sensing a faint disturbing memory, Tobias recommends she doesn't leave the tent. The three psychos (inspired perhaps by the villains of Oliver Stone's 1974 debut feature Seizure?) appear once again, subjecting Tobias and Elin to harassment and homicide until yet again Tobias finds himself woken by a bladder-bursting Elin. This time, Tobias's memory of the terrors that await himself and his wife has become more lucid, and he attempts to make an escape, but is unable to outrun his adversaries. Elin and Tobias find themselves caught in a loop, with the former having no memory of the previous incidents while the latter struggles to find a way out of the nightmare they have somehow become trapped in.

koko-di koko-da review


Through this device, Nyholm has hit upon a harrowing metaphor for the seemingly inescapable cycle of grief many of us may sadly find ourselves stuck in. As more tidbits of information are revealed with each new repeat of the cycle, we learn that both parties, the protagonists and antagonists, are victims of grief, but have chosen different ways to process it. Elin and Tobias have opted for the very Northern European approach of bottling it all up, while their aggressive tormentors have chosen to lash out.

[ READ MORE: New Release Review - The Perfect Candidate ]

Sweden, and the wider Scandinavia, has one of the world's highest suicide rates (both parents of lead actor Edlund took their own lives), and it's often surmised that Northern European stoicism is largely behind such a statistic. Like Ruben Ostlund's Force Majeure and Kristian Soderstrom's Videoman, Koko-di Koko-da is the latest Swedish movie to explore the damage that can be wrought by emotional repression.

koko-di koko-da review


For much of its running time, Nyholm's film is a disturbing watch, akin at times to Wes Craven's gruelling Last House on the Left. Craven's film has its own roots in Swedish folklore, ostensibly a remake of Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring, which was inspired by a medieval Swedish ballad concerning a father who seeks revenge for the killings of his three daughters. The ballad's unknown composer had the foresight all those centuries ago to warn us to be careful how we let grief dominate our lives, and Nyholm is carrying on their tradition through today's dominant medium.

Koko-di Koko-da is an unsettling, profoundly sad, but ultimately uplifting exploration of grief and fate through a folk-horror lens. Where most backwoods horror movies act as deterrents for rural camping trips, Nyholm's film encourages us to get out into the woods and face our demons. And if a white cat comes calling, pay attention to what they have to teach you.

Koko-di Koko-da is in UK/ROI cinemas March 27th.




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