Review: Grief Is Brutal in Disturbing, Emotional 'Koko-di Koko-da'

by Megan Kearns

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday November 9, 2020

Leif Edlund in 'Koko-di koko-da'
Leif Edlund in 'Koko-di koko-da'  

Grief can overwhelm, wounding us and overshadowing everything. When you think of horror films, you might not immediately think of them eliciting sorrow or emotional reactions like crying. You might not necessarily think of horror films as having a tender core, although some do, like Natalie Erika James' "Relic" and "Koko-di Koko-da." Horror films contend with primal, visceral emotions, so it's arguably the perfect genre for unpacking grief.

Written and directed by Johannes Nyholm, "Koko-di Koko-da" is a strange, disturbing, unsettling, and emotional horror film about a grieving married couple caught in a time loop. The couple, (Elin Ylva Gallon) and Tobias (Leif Edlund), mourns the loss of their young daughter. After their daughter's death, they embark on a camping trip together. They're clearly miserable, bickering and insulting each other, but trying to recapture the loving relationship they once shared. A sinister carnivalesque trio comes upon them in the woods. They taunt, torture, and kill the couple — over and over again. The circumstances change a bit each day, but the results remain the same.

The film opens with the trio — we later see their images illustrated on a music box — as one carries a dead dog while one sings the song that's the film's title. It immediately sets the tone for what you're about to experience: Surrealism and disturbing gore.

After the death of their daughter, a wrenching scene, the film picks up three years later as Elin and Tobias go camping. At the campsite, Elin exits their tent to go to the bathroom. We hear whistling. The trio attacks them. The day reboots. Each time, the circumstances involve Elin having to pee and we hear whistling. Sometimes the trio injures them and kills them through hitting, stabbing, shooting, or one of their dogs attacks them. Eventually, Tobias awakens and rushes Elin to get to their car. He says, "They'll be here any second." He remembers, reliving this nightmare again and again. But Elin thinks it's just a dream. Until, eventually, she remembers too.

Ylva Gallon and Leif Edlund give great performances. They excavate and convey terror, panic, rage, and sadness. You feel what they feel.

Time-loop films — like "Groundhog Day," "Happy Death Day," "Run Lola Run," and "Palm Springs" — are tricky, as filmmakers must be creative and inventive in order to vary repeated events in order to avoid monotony and feeling repetitive. The film never felt tedious; I was riveted. The repeated events induce dread.

"Koko-di Koko-da" is a strange, disturbing, and emotional elegy on grief.

The film is an allegory of existing in a cycle of sorrow and grief. How do we mourn? How do you heal from the loss of a child? How do we prevent spiraling grief from pulling us down into the depths of despair? Elin and Tobias exist in a perpetual nightmare. Like their grief, this time-loop of violence seems unending.

This is not an easy film to watch. It's extremely upsetting and disturbing, with the death of children and animals. Yet it floored me, gutting me with its tragic emotional resonance.

Fairytale, childlike touches juxtapose the horror and gore. Animals are a recurring motif: Rabbits, birds, a dog, and a cat. At the beginning of the film the family eats at a restaurant, their faces painted like bunnies. The server even calls them "the bunny family." A haunting and heartbreaking shadow puppet show with rabbits and birds mirrors the death of Elin and Tobias' daughter, in fable form. One of the trio carries a dead dog in his arms as they traipse through the woods. A white cat sporadically crosses Elin and Tobias' paths. Sometimes, the cat is a harbinger of doom; one time, Elin follows the cat, like Alice following the White Rabbit, and it leads her to a place of benevolence.

The fable shadow puppet shows, which we see early in the film and at its climax, are absolutely heartbreaking. The two scenes destroyed me, rendering me a sobbing mess. While the first puppet show is about the death of a child, the second puppet show mirrors how Elin and Tobias have become enemies. Yet it conveys how it's possible to rise from pain and move through sorrow.

While disturbing events transpire in "Koko-Di Koko-Da," it's strangely powerful. It encapsulates what happens when trapped in an endless cycle of pain, rage, and grief and how we can heal. This will not be a film for everyone, but it rewards audiences with its unique storytelling and aesthetics and a surprisingly emotional and tender elegy of trauma and grief.

"Koko-di Koko-da" opened in virtual theaters Nov. 6 and will be available on VOD December 8.