Three figures stalk through a forest – a woman with long, raven-black hair (Katarina Jakobson), a giant, bearded brute carrying a dead dog (Morad Baloo Khatchadorian), and their leader, a grinning, white-suited gent singing a children’s song (Peter Belli). Thus opens Johannes Nyholm’s second feature, its evocative imagery promising psychological terror rendered through childhood iconoclasm.
Nyholm’s wheelhouse of fabular imagery is fantastically creepy, brought to life by Tobias Höiem-Flykt and Johan Lundborg’s motif-driven cinematography and sound design that subtly twists banal background noise into the realm of nightmares. Sadly, for all of the film’s promise of plumbing the depths, Koko-di Koko-da is too often content to superficially exploit that wheelhouse for easy shocks.
After the tragic death of their daughter on her eighth birthday, the film catches up with Tobias (Leif Edlund) and Elin (Ylva Gallon) on their way to a camping holiday. Three years after they found their daughter dead in her hospital bed, their relationship is at breaking point, with Elin flipping out at Tobias for getting her the wrong ice cream, while he insists on making light of her barely-concealed distress The film is at its strongest here, the camera awkwardly hovering between them as they bicker, suffering together but intractably alone.
Skipping ahead several hours, the couple pitch their tent in the middle of the night. We see the scene first from Tobias’ perspective as Elin churlishly refuses to help him with the tent in the torrential rain. In the morning, the pair are found and set upon by the three figures from the prologue who brutally dispatch both of them. The scene is later replayed from Elin’s point of view, this time revealing that Tobias impulsively turns off into the woods still miles from the campsite to insist that they camp there for the night, the morning revealing that the pair are trapped in a repeating Groundhog Day-style loop.
Unfortunately, Koko-di Koko-da misses that each replay should reveal something new, either about the characters or their predicament. While the manner of their deaths always changes – Tobias always remembers the previous morning and tries to escape, sometimes with Elin, sometimes without – the material circumstances remain the same. Tobias acts cowardly in the first morning: by the fifth, he is just the same. As a result, the characters never feel like real people, but rather two-dimensional cyphers for grief.
The attacks themselves are rendered effective through their undeniably creepy spectacle. Meanwhile, the dead dog, the three figures, and the recurring appearance of a white cat all feel very Jungian in their evocation of deep-seated primal fears. But that’s just the film’s problem: Koko-di Koko-da is so rich with texture, so sure of the profundity of its (admittedly effective) toy box of terrors, that it never stops to ask what they mean or what it really thinks of cycles of grief beyond the pat observation that they are difficult to escape.
Christopher Machell | @MachellFilm