REVIEW: Koko-Di Koko-Da (2019)

A couple spend a holiday with their eight year-old daughter, only for it to reach an inexplicable and tragic end. Three years later – now in a broken relationship – they go camping in the woods, only to encounter a terrifying trio of strangers deep inside the forest.

Johannes Nyholm writes and directs this strange little arthouse horror. For the most part it seems a deeply repetitive and unlikeable affair, with encounter after encounter with the mysterious trio resulting in variations of the same blunt force, regularly sexualised trauma. In one particular moment the violence seems actively nauseating, and presented in such a fashion as to make the film genuinely hard to fathom. Extreme cinema only really works when that extremity is presented with a clear purpose – usually to train a moment of any sense of titillation – and here it feels curiously banal for much of the time. It is horrible, but not often entirely horrifying.

Then the film will suddenly break out into a moment that feels weirdly transcendent. Two sequences of shadow puppetry in particular stretch the film beyond its rather limited confines and suggests something far more interesting and atmospheric. These are eerie scenes of beauty, combining a fairy-tale-like aesthetic with an elegiac musical score. They open up the circular horrors of the film proper to question. They invite the audience to work out the sense of the rest of the film, since their sense of symbolism heavily imply that there is some kind of sense to be made of things. It is not entirely successful: meaning is insinuated but never fully expressed. There is a conclusion but not a resolution. There are provocative moments, but no answers to any of the questions presented.

For one thing, there is precious little character getting explored. One has a grieving couple – their relationship clearly fractured past use – but one does not have too much distinctive character or back story. It is all frustratingly anonymous. Leif Edlund plays Tobias, whose breezy attempts at humour cover a deeply brittle personality. He is an absolute coward when push comes to shove, and that makes him difficult with which to engage – while he likely reflects the behaviour of many victims in an assault, he never reflects the behaviour many of us would like to think we would display in the same crisis. Yiva Gallon is on much more engaging ground as Elin: a grieving mother chafing at Tobias’ failure to properly communicating his feelings. A lengthy sequence in the film’s mid-section suggests a much greater depth to her character, but feels disrupted by Nyholm’s use of a different actress as Elin in one key scene. It works in a symbolic sense but sadly fails in a dramatic one.

Particularly effective is former Danish pop singer Peter Belli as “Mog”, the straw boater-wearing leader of the invasive horror trio that keeps returning to menace Tobias and Elin. His playful, sing-song delivery is deeply creepy – occasionally extending into the actively vile – and while he features in a particularly challenging film, as far as horror antagonists go he seems a particularly effective one.

Koko-Di Koko-Di is an imperfect and troublesome film, but for fans of more experimental modes of narrative filmmaking – if they are anything like me – there is just enough interesting and arresting material to make it a surreal journey worth taking. I am not entirely convinced that the film works, but it certainly fascinates.

Koko-Di Koko-Da screened at the 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival.

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