This Swedish/Danish production is the second feature film from Swedish director Johannes Nyholm, following 2016’s The Giant. It has garnered attention at Sundance with its original tone and atmosphere.
The film starts with three figures moving through a forest: a small dandy in a white suit and a boater hat (60s Danish rock star Peter Belli); a woman with an elaborate hairdo with a growling dog on a lead; and a giant carrying a wounded dog in his arms. The little man sings a nursery rhyme (“My cockerel is dead and it will never sing Koko-di Koko-da”), and this scene fades into a shot of a music box containing three similar looking characters, admired by a little girl as she peers in through a shop window. The girl, Maja, is on holiday in Denmark with her parents Elin (Ylva Gallon) and Tobias (Lief Edlund) to celebrate her eighth birthday. However, tragedy looms large. Following an allergic reaction, Maja is airlifted to hospital, and the next morning the parents discover with horror that their little girl is dead.
After an interlude of shadows and puppets, we find the bereaved couple taking a miserable camping trip to try to mend their fractured relationship. Their luck does not improve and they are subjected to a nightmare, being killed over and over again by the trio of grotesque psychopaths from the opening. Nyholm writes, directs and produces this fable about the raw and disorientating power of grief, and it plays out like a surrealist phantasmagorical mix of The Babadook and Groundhog Day.
The fact that the three tormenters have no motive plays on the arbitrary nature of life and death. Nyholm creates set pieces drenched in dread and melancholy, from the score of menacing music-box twinkles and haunting strings to the striking aerial cinematography capturing the grotesque tableau at the end of each time loop. The forest is so dense with suspense that the mere appearance of a white cat in it provokes a jolt. The cat is a star and could have done with a bigger role and more explanation. Nyholm creates striking moods and feels almost Lynchian in his unsettling surrealism. He is one to watch.
Koko-di Koko-da is released digitally on BFI Player on 7th September 2020.
Watch the trailer for Koko-di Koko-da here: