Suppressed, fantastical grief strikes a mourning couple’s solipsistic holiday in Johannes Nyholm’s arty psychohorror. In parallel with fellow countryman Ingmar Bergman’s psychodrama The Hour of the Wolf, Elin (Ylva Gallon) and Tobias’ (Leif Edlung Johannson) paradisal getaway quickly runs into an unsettling incubus. Don’t let the whimsical promotional art deceive you: Nyholm masterfully underpins a grief-stricken allegory beneath the mythic horror, resulting in a blazing fever-dream.
Much like the hedonistic, ennui-ridden characters that populate Bergman’s films, Elin and Tobias begin to slowly unravel and drive themselves mad amidst the backdrop of woods. When situated in the context of 2020, a macabre year, a film teetering on the fringes of sanity in a quiet locale is all the more maddening.
Do dreams have a common thread, a stitching tied to the fabric of our own truths, or are they simply an amalgamation of arbitrary bits of our lives? Nyholm’s film suggests the former, that permutations of what is left unexpressed will eventually come to the fore and haunt you if left undealt with.
Three years following the tragic death of their eight-year-old daughter, Maja, the hapless couple seeks escapism outdoors. On their camping getaway, they’re subjected to a brutal cycle of dying, over and over and over again, by a trio of folkloric characters adorning Maja’s spinning-top toy. Is this real, or simply a nightmare? Rather than explicitly outlining what’s real and what’s purely in the realm of the subconscious, Nyholm’s film is a depository for grief.
Repetition, of course, is Nyholm’s main cinematic device. By creating a rework of Groundhog Day the structure allows for subconscious torment akin to a bout of sleep-paralysis. It’s unsurprising that Nyholm modelled the film off of a nightmare he once had.
The film’s title borrows from a Swedish nursery rhyme that ring chillingly throughout the film as the Dandy conjures up more and more ways to torture the already downtrodden couple. It’s not the only infantilizing ear-worm though, the mad-hatter-type who orchestrates the terror also chants: yummy, yummy yummy, I’ve got love in my tummy. Through this, Nyholm shows us the ugly manifestations of parental guilt and descending down the rabbit hole certainly isn’t a dull experience.
Admittedly, as someone lacking a penchant for unbridled cinematic gore, Koko-di Koko-da offers a promising feature debut from the Swedish auteur. Like Bergman, or even Lynch, this whimsically doomed tale is perfect for fans of arthouse horror.
Koko-Di Koko-Da opened in select theatres on November 6 and premieres on VOD on December 8.