SUNDANCE Review: Johannes Nyholm’s Koko-Di Koko-da
Johannes Nyholm’s Koko-Di Koko-da is a Swedish horror film about the magic of children. Their power is transformative, making two persons, into three persons, into one family. They inspire greater love and necessitate whimsy. They teach by knowing nothing and growing from there. They put a spell over their parents - making them feel greater than, indivisibly bound, and valuable as contributors of the human legacy. When a child is taken too soon, the magic does not leave with them, but becomes twisted. What was once magical is now menacing, what was whimsical is now weaponized, and what was bound is now broken.
Tobias (Leif Edlund) and Elin (Ylva Gallon) did not see it coming. One moment they’re wearing bunny face paint and laughing with their daughter, Maya (Katarina Jakobson), and the next they’re being airlifted away. Elin’s face is swollen and red, an unprecedented allergic reaction to shellfish. Elin asks if Maya feels okay. She had a few mussels, too, but she feels fine and promises her mother that she’ll let her know if that changes. They are all bunked together in Elin’s hospital room, when Tobias comes back from the cafeteria with a cupcake so they can wake Maya with a birthday song and she can open her gift - a music box that caught her fancy in the window of vintage shop. They sing, but Maya doesn’t stir and the spell is broken.
We meet Tobias and Elin three years later, there’s no laughter or bunny faces. There’s just bickering and exasperation. The only thing they seem to agree on is that neither of them wanted to be on vacation again, but the camping gear is in the trunk, and they were going to have fun whether they liked it or not. They go bitterly forward until they slip into a time loop, forced to relive a moment that begins with apprehension and ends with the humiliation, torture, and murder of one or both of them.
The plinking music of this twisted merry-go-round is a folk song about a rooster who look will never sing again, “koko koko koko koko-di koko-da.” The orchestration permutates from strings, to flute, to children’s choirs, but it is always aggressively and pervasively the whole song. There is a folksy, children’s theater element to the baddies of this film. The three haunting weirdos that descend on our shattered couple are like Hanna-Barbera characters come to life, except they’re swedish and pointing a gun at your genitals and laughing.
Interspersed within this perverse Groundhog’s Day of family drama is a shadow puppet show about a mama bunny and daddy bunny who have to bury their little baby bunny. Koko-Di Koko Da is a multi-medium fairytale, woven to depress you up then creep you out. The grounded performances of Edlund and Gallon, contrasted with the Captain Kangaroo on coke that is the villain in the white suit, Peter Belli, create a cognitive dissonance that is unsettling. The intensity doesn’t wax or wain, but plateaus on way-uncomfortable and then persists. It makes audiences members laugh, squirm, leave, but they don’t do or feel nothing. The death of a child is a scary corner of human existence to look, it’s no surprise that Johannes Nyholm found some monsters that we’re uneasy to face.