North Bend Film Fest 2019: ‘Koko-di Koko-da’ Review – A Reoccurring Nightmare Influenced by Folklore, Fables, and Grief

Koko-di Koko-da, Johannes Nyholm’s Swedish language psychological horror, which screened at North Bend Film Festival, brings a new spin and meaning to portraying reoccurring events in a narrative trying to break a Groundhog Day-like cycle.

Nyholm initially introduces the audience to a fairy tale dynamic of a happy family. Husband Tobias, (Leif Edlund) and wife, Elin, (Ylva Gallon) is on vacation with their daughter, and everything so far appears to be fun and games. They are in one of the most care and stress-free situations possible. They are visibly enjoying themselves and in a position of having nothing to worry about, even though their daughter is magnetized to a strange music box telling a story that foreshadows the fate of the family. Then, things take a turn for the worst. Following a severe allergic reaction to seafood, Elin is taken ill, with Nyholm stringing us along to think that the worst is to come of her, but it is, in fact, their daughter who possesses the dark fortune. Years later, in an attempt to move forward and reconnect with each other once more, Tobias and Elin are on another vacation. However, they are about to become bound by another trauma that they must contend with.

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Leif Edlund in Johannes Nyholm’s KOKO-DI KOKO-DA (Credit: Dark Star Pictures)

But, it goes without saying, the torture and performance-based exchanges that are reminiscent of Funny Games bring Koko-di Koko-da to a standstill. A spectacle is made at the suffering of others, and this is done at the hand of the character’s depicted on the music box seen before and at the start of the film: a ringleader, who reflects the nature of a carnival and circus with his followers, a giant, and a mystic woman. As Tobias and Elin have no choice but to revisit their hellish encounter with the troupe in its different forms, this is where Nyholm’s film opts for shock and style over the narrative. Not much is ever given away about who these sinister people are and why they are doing this. Instead, the film revisits the events that led Tobias and Elin into their situation in the woods and it can become a tiresome experience. The torturous encounters are different each time, but nothing more is seen apart from the experiences going from bad to worse. There are no improvements in how the hostile situations are handled and the only thing highlighted is Tobias’ selfish actions and how the film can build suspense. In return, the meaning of the film can be lost too as it relies on visual interpretation, but the imagery can make you question its purpose if it can be identified.

One thing Koko-di Koko-da does manage to make clear is that there have been little attempts by the couple to deal with their grief and how it has affected each other. Their quality of life has suffered, and this is visualized by contrasting the pair to how they were first presented on screen. They are now at a polar opposite to how things were before. There is tension between the two, they are always arguing and this is then accompanied by shots of them driving with no dialogue. The silence compliments how things have remained unsolved for the duo, and not dealt with properly given the circumstances. Respectively, it is as though Nyholm is suggesting that for the past three years they have been torturing each other, and not breaking their cycle of destructive behavior which is then reflected through the troupe and reoccurring events. On a lighter note, whether you come to care for the couple or not, the film does provide the couple with the opportunity to do something they might not have done before: grieve.

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Peter Belli, Brandy Litmanen and Morad Baloo Khatchadorian in Johannes Nyholm’s KOKO-DI KOKO-DA (Credit: Dark Star Pictures)

Though their meaning can be lost, the use of folklore and inspiration of the fable presented in Koko-di Koko-da do become a subtle and effective touch. Their imagery reflects the structure of a nursery rhyme going back-and-forth, and the score by helps to create the effect of a story being told, even when it feels like the film is not moving forward. Singularly, the shadow puppet show creates a visual narrative in the form of an allegory to summarise the film easily in a short space of time, contrasted to the films 86 minute running time. It is moments like this where Koko-di Koko-da presents itself as not having the best story, but it lets you know that it excels in other finer areas. But, the real shame is that if the film was more tied together – a better experience would be produced. With that said, it is easier to talk about the strengths of the film rather than having to endure its journey. Koko-di Koko-da will no doubt polarize audiences but is worth the experience if a couple dancing with death in the midst of their dead relationship sounds like something you would enjoy.

Distributed by Dark Star Pictures, Koko-di Koko-da is opening theatrically in New York and Los Angeles in November with a national release to follow.

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