Johannes Nyholm’s “Koko-Di Koko-Da” explores relationship disintegration through the realm of surrealism, but while it makes certain points resonate, it also runs out of steam pretty soon.
Balancing on the thin line between horror and psychological drama is trendy nowadays. Ari Aster’s double stunt – groundbreaking “Hereditary” and arresting “Midsommar” – along with a few indie movies like “A Hole In The Ground”, went to those dark places where human minds play the most horrific tricks.
Johannes Nyholm’s “Koko-Di Koko-Da” follows that trail as well.
The film’s protagonists – Tobias (Leif Edlund) and Elin (Ylva Gallon) – are terrorised by three bizarre figures in what seems to be a fatal loophole of their own consciousness. No matter what they do, they die.
Nyholm confines the action within one camping site, suffocating its characters like canned fish. It’s a stuffy space to be shut in, and the hopelessness of the situation traps the audience just like the characters of the story. The Promethean agony repeats itself, with the only difference of how the couple dies. Either ripped apart by a dog or shot to death, Tobias and Elin wake up in a tent only to be killed off minutes after.
This scheme gets repetitive because Nyholm orders his audience to watch the same scenes several times. We wake up with Elin, then see Tobias lose his mind as he senses the silent footsteps of the monstrous trio. While it creates the unbearable feeling of no-escapism, it’s also quite a bore to sit through.
Furthermore, “Koko-Di Koko-Da” oozes a gaming-like experience, where the characters are forced to figure out how to get out of the mess they’re in. As much fun as that could be, it doesn’t propel the story’s psychology to be deeper. It’s just a lock, and we can’t even start to look for the key.
On the other hand, this drag is well justified by the film’s plot.
In the beginning of “Koko-Di Koko-Da”, Tobias and Elin are shown in a quasi-prologue as a happy couple on vacations, eating ice cream with their daughter by the seaside. But a fatal accident that involves their beloved child, sets them apart and causes to land in this perpetual loop – their relationship’s purgatory where both either ascend to heaven and get back to each other or crawl into hell and stop fighting.
This specific part is actually where Nyholm gets most attention. The opening sequence hits you hard and sets the mood for two people stranded on separate islands, left to crawl under their own grief.
While the psychology of the characters is well set up, what might cause the wear-off effect in “Koko-Di Koko-Da” is the inept way in which Nyholm builds the surreal world Tobias and Elin land in. The story begs for more offbeat aesthetics, with the reality capsized more staggeringly. The three tormentors should have a darker setting to work in, more unreal and therefore scarier. And the forest with the camping site is too palpably real.
Despite its flaws, Nyholm’s “Koko-Di Koko-Da” still lets you submerge in its more artistic layer.
One of the film’s most captivating moments are two short animations, with childish paper theatre that retells the couple’s story in a symbolic way, portraying them as birds in a cage. It’s ornamented with a moving score and with its stunning aesthetics, stands out and stays in your mind long after the credits roll.
By the moment that happens, you’ll be most likely baffled at the entire effort of Johannes Nyholm. As “Koko-Di Koko-Da” balances its weight between surreal horror and drama, as it meanders between bonkers and literal, it never elicits the range of emotions such story should.
Koko-Di Koko-Da (2019)
Dir. Johannes Nyholm
Hate Grade: 4/10