by Matt Weiner
What about Groundhog Day, but with unrelenting psychological dread? That’s the premise of Johannes Nyholm’s horror fable Koko-di, Koko-da, and it’s a testament to writer/director Nyholm that the film’s excruciating time loop manages to go from torturous to therapeutic.
After a family vacation takes a shocking turn, Tobias (Leif Edlund) and Elin (Ylva Gallon) lose themselves in their own private grief, their marriage one submerged argument away from total annihilation. What better time for a camping trip in the foreboding Swedish forests to get that old magic back?
Their unresolved trauma starts to literally stalk the couple in the shape of three carnivalesque figures, with each nightmare encounter ending the same way: some gruesome death, and then Tobias wakes up to repeat the loop all over again.
The horror of Koko-di Koko-da rarely gets gory. Tobias and Elin continually suffer extreme violence and torture, but it’s all (thankfully) implied. Instead, what’s so unnerving about the film is the inescapable dream logic that suffuses their fateful loop: no matter how hard Tobias tries or how fast he runs, it’s only a matter of time before the first strains of the fateful nursery rhyme on which the title is based start up, and the couple’s shared torture begins anew.
The film’s main down side is that we aren’t allowed to see or know much beyond the confines of this inexorable—and unrelenting—loop. And once the metaphor is clear, there’s little else to do besides feel like an eavesdropper in a long overdue couples therapy session. (An unconventional one, sure, with more murder and animal attacks than the APA likely recommends, but who knows what they get up to in Sweden.)
Still, it’s impossible not to feel for the grieving pair. Anyone deserves some kind of catharsis after enduring such tragedy, and both Edlund and Gallon manage to make it feel earned, even with their thinly detailed characters.
Koko-di Koko-da is not a pleasant film to watch, but it is often a beautiful one. And it lays bare the truth that there’s no escaping misery in life—that the only way to break the cycle is to confront it, pain and all.