The inevitability of death is something all people have trouble handling. Some people accept their mortality more easily than others, but everyone is trying to escape from death. Simply put, it is something everyone grapples with everyday. Director Johannes Nyholm revisits this idea over and over again in the horrifying and sad Koko-di Koko-da.
After a foreboding prologue, the film begins. Tobias and Elin are preparing to celebrate their daughter Maja’s birthday. It is an exciting day, that includes face painting. Things come to a screeching halt when Elin has an allergic reaction to some shellfish. Just as things seem to be getting better, the couples lives change dramatically.
At its core, Koko-di Koko-da is about grief. In order to salvage the relationship, Tobias and Elin embark on a relationship saving vacation. Their loss has damaged their relationship greatly. They are obviously still in love, but it is tinged with sadness. Even the tiniest actions-a miscommunication involving ice cream, for example- are fraught with trauma. Everything in the movie is underlined with a sense of dread.
As the premise starts to set in, it becomes clear what is happening. Tobias and Elin are forced to confront their grief repeatedly. A series of violent vignettes also give insight into Tobias. He never becomes smarter and is always more concerned with self preservation. His decisions speak as much to the state of the relationship as they do about him.
Koko-di Koko-da is similar to watching a nightmare play out. The characters convey a sense of twisted innocence (Tobias’ attempts to save Elin are just as much about saving himself) while the lingering camerawork gives the film the fell of a never ending dream. The sporadic use of animation and shadow puppets may be the most chilling aspect of the film. (The music box score is also very effective.)
The story is incredibly violent, but the majority of the terror is psychological. Koko-di Koko-da is less about the visceral scares and more about the imagined ones. This is seen in the changing landscapes and emphasis on sound. Pointedly, there is little on screen bloodshed. (There is a particularly disturbing scene involving a hungry dog, however.)
Koko-di Koko-da is a dark fairy tale. A camping trip meant to rekindle a relationship turns into a run in with three sadistic people who delight in the suffering of others. What happens next is a comedy of horrors that is beautifully shot and impossible to look away from. It is also a powerful and tragic tale about handling grief and loss.