Music boxes are supposed to be comforting. You wind one up at night to lull yourself to sleep. The things which make a music box comforting, though, can also be unsettling. It’s this potential for horror that writer-director Johannes Nyholm exploits in his new movie, Koko-Di, Koko-Da.
It’s the characters from the music box which end up terrorizing the family in this movie. Tobias (Leif Edlund) and Elin (Ylva Gallon) are on vacation with their daughter, Maja (Katarina Jakobson). The first time you see Maja, she’s looking at the music box from the toy store window. Nyholm must be a fan of Fritz Lang’s M because, if you’ve seen the movie, than you know Peter Lorre’s serial killer tries to lure a child away while she’s standing at a toy store window (his whistling is also what identifies him and there’s plenty of sinister whistling in Koko-Di, Koko-Da). While Maja’s parents find her before anything happens, this sequence is the first sign that she might be in danger.
Then Elin suffers an allergic reaction to shellfish and they’re forced to stay in the hospital overnight. Maja ate some of the shellfish, too, but doesn’t show any of the same symptoms. By the time she does, it’s already too late.
Cut to three years later and Tobias and Elin are on vacation once again. For a lot of the car scenes Nyholm films Tobias and Elin from the back seat, so it’s like the camera is taking Maja’s point of view. Along with the marital tension that didn’t exist before, it’s a reminder that Maja isn’t there.
While Elin wants to stop at a motel for the night, Tobias insists they go camping instead and picks a random spot in the woods to pitch their tent. It’s there that the music box characters first appear. Like a Danish Ray Wise, singer and actor Peter Belli plays their main antagonist, and while I was expecting the film to be creepy, the violence in Koko-di, Koko-da is incredibly ugly — especially the violence against Elin. The worst part is it repeats. Time loop movies have been having a resurgence lately, but in Koko-Di, Koko-Da the structure ties back to how music boxes play the same song over and over again.
Every time the loop starts over it begins on Elin’s face but it’s Tobias who seems to be the one with some knowledge of what’s going on. While he’s affected by the violence, too, Elin usually gets hurt first and most viciously.
Is Nyholm trying to say something about grief and how it effects mothers versus fathers? As much as the violence is too much, it’s meant to be emulating grief, so maybe it needs to be that extreme? For all of the patterns in Koko-di, Koko-da, it’s hard to discern their actual meaning. The answer to how to stop the time loop, for example, might be in the animated sequences, but it’s still difficult to know what that answer is. Koko-Di, Koko-Da is a beautifully constructed movie, but not one to watch if you’re trying to calm your nerves or cheer yourself up.
Koko-Di, Koko-Da arrives in virtual theaters starting November 6th from Dark Star Pictures. It’ll be available on VOD starting December 8th in the US and Canada.