Film Spotlight: ‘Koko-di Koko-da’ is Psychological Horror at its Most Unrelenting

Despite all the slapstick absurdity, the five-films-long Vacation series was actually on to something about the harrowing nature of family trips. 2014’s Force Majeure then came along and took it in a decidedly more sardonic direction.

And now comes Johannes Nyholm’s—also Swedish—Koko-di Koko-da (Dark Star Pictures), which brings it profoundly over into full blown horror territory. And it is, to put it mildly, an utterly unrelenting horror.

A family of three is on—yes—a vacation, when an unexpected bout of food poisoning takes mother and eight-year-old daughter to the hospital. Where, in one of the most unforgiving scenes in literal cinematic history, the parents discover the child is dead in her hospital bed whilst they are gleefully singing her ‘Happy Birthday.’ There must be about a dozen layers of torment that go along with just such an unimaginable experience, all of which Ylva Gallon as mother Elin exhibits with agonizingly convincing anguish. It’s a scene that as a viewer, you will not quickly recover from.

Three years on they set off into the woods for a now childless getaway (all things considered, we would have recommended a spa weekend). Yet one gets the feeling that what we’re seeing now might not be real at all—rather, their never fully processed grief might actually be manifesting itself in some ominously Lynchian form of dream sequence. And notably populating said dream are a trio of the most terrifying psychopaths ever to make up a nightmare scenario: a white-suited, Capote-esque carnival barker (played by aging Danish pop star Peter Belli), a giant with an outsize grudge, and what would seem to be a murderess escapee from a Dead Can Dance video.

The scenes are filmed in a kind of ritualistic zen, as if terrorizing a young couple camped out in creepy wooded hollow comes with some sort of sacred instructional manual. Yet there’s also a randomness to the way the terrors are carried out that makes the film teeter on nihilism (especially as there is no motive for their behavior other than being, you know, psychopaths). And as if Groundhog Day were directed by Eli Roth, the scene is repeated pitilessly over and over from varying perspectives.

Nyholm pointedly emphasizes how completely impossible it is to reckon with the loss of a child, by interspersing eerie, hand-drawn scenes of a bunny family hopping about the forest, in a crude but viscerally effective light-box style. A white cat also appears around 23:50 in, and whatever the symbolism, it was admittedly lost on us.

Yet what Koko-di Koko-da is trying to convey is quite the opposite of nihilism. Rather, it seems to be attempting to explicate in the most gruesome of ways the relentless, and many headed nature of cavernous, all-encompassing sorrow. In that, it is mercilessly effective.

Koko-di Koko-da opens in Virtual Cinemas on November 6, in Los Angeles and New York (Laemmle Theaters) and major cities including: Philadelphia (Film Society), Cleveland (Cinematheque), Columbus (Gateway Film Center) and Durham (Carolina Theater) with a VOD Release to follow.

Tickets can be purchased here.

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