Horror is my favourite genre. I love trashy horror, profound horror, surreal horror, body horror, J Horror. Every type of horror really. I will happily watch a schlocky, B-Movie horror as long as it’s entertaining.
Johannes Nyholm’s surrealist horror Koko-Di Koko-Da makes the fatal error of being boring. Nyholm previously made the brilliantly funny short film Las Palmas, and he brings a lot of his surreal creativity to this feature, but unfortunately it’s not enough to elevate the story which aims for abstract and thought provoking, but lands on baffling.
To Nyholm’s credit, the film starts really well, with a natural and richly observed snapshot of a holiday for a young couple and their daughter that ends in tragedy. These scenes are painfully human and relatable, starting with an awkward encounter with some party entertainers and ending with the mother having an allergic reaction landing them all in hospital. The shift from comedy to genuine horror is palpable and effective, and is the best, most disturbing sequence in the entire film.
It’s a shame then that the rest of the film is such a slog. It follows the parents as they take a belated holiday that turns into a nightmare as they appear to be caught in an endless loop of dreams where they are apprehended by the same three people over and over again – a chirpy little man in a suit, and his two monstrous children.
Leif Edlund and Ylva Gallon give strong, multi-layered performances as the parents, and they manage to successfully convey the confusion of the situation as it gets weirder and weirder. Unfortunately, the baddies are too mannered to ever be really menacing or scary. The little man is more irritating than anything, and his children are either supposed to be comedic or intimidating, and wind up being neither. There is a kind of forced quirkiness to the characters and it’s never established exactly who/what they are. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, (many horror villains are as iconic and durable as they are precisely because they don’t have a backstory) but it does make the film a bit laborious and difficult to enjoy, especially when there is zero pay-off. At first their appearance in the dream sequences feels fresh and unpredictable, but the suspense quickly drains out of it when the pattern of scenes repeating themselves is established, and the film becomes very repetitive and one note.
There are positives; the animated sequences that serve as an allegory for the couple’s relationship are really well done; they are beautifully made and show the parents’ dramatically different approaches to grief. It feels at least partly influenced by Don’t Look Now which is never a bad thing! The problem with the bulk of the film is that the message feels incredibly laboured, while it simultaneously feels like the audience is being asked to do most of the heavy lifting.
There are inspired moments, but ultimately Koko-Di Koko-Da neither succeeds as a horror or a dark fantasy. Nyholm is clearly talented, wringing every ounce of drama from the early scenes, and his previous work remains a must see. However this never feels like an entirely coherent film, and the overall impression is one of frustration rather than anything else. The baddies are tiresome, and instead of instilling dread in the audience, they just end up being annoying, while the film as a whole is too oblique to be satisfying.
Koko-Di Koko-Da is released exclusively to BFI player, Blu-ray and Digital on 7 September 2020.