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Review: ‘Koko-di Koko-da’ goes beyond horror to a family’s personal hell

Leif Edlund peeks out through the flap of a tent in the movie "Koko-di Koko-da."
Leif me alone: Leif Edlund in the metaphorical mind-bender “Koko-di Koko-da.”
(Dark Star Pictures)

The Swedish “Koko-di Koko-da” is about people trapped in a personal hell; though freaky and unsettling, it’s not exactly a horror movie. Or perhaps not just a horror movie.

It’s a difficult film to review because the central storytelling conceit is probably best discovered on viewing, rather than audiences being armed with foreknowledge. Without spoilers, it can be said that a family suffers a shattering trauma, tries to find its way back from that world-changing experience and discovers the journey to be almost impossible — made all the more so by visitations from frightening strangers in the woods.

The film mixes horror elements with surreal fantasy and the crushing realism of a serious family drama. It’s metaphorical, vague but also precise in its specificity for the horrific trials these people are to face — their personal hell.

That’s one of the key characteristics of “Koko-di Koko-da”: As weird as it is, it feels personal. The characters and their relationships matter. The storytelling has a voice. There’s a deadpan dream logic to Johannes Nyholm’s filmmaking (he wrote, directed, edited and produced); he drops in characters, animals and objects that must symbolize something, but you’re not sure what while in the moment. He doesn’t shove details in your face or use sweeping camera moves or rapid cutting to command you to feel something.

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The cinematography by Tobias Höiem-Flyckt and Johan Lundborg is calm and dispassionate as the insane occurs, then proves capable of arresting images. It enhances the performance of an intricate, layered shadow play and captures the haunting solo journey one character takes into the dark woods. Olof Cornéer and Simon Ohlsson contribute a score that is strange and beautiful, and Nyholm deploys it carefully.

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Trailer for the Swedish metaphorical mind-bender “Koko-di Koko-da.”

The film plays like a dream cycle or perhaps a recurring nightmare. However, thinking of it as a “horror movie” builds a false expectation. It’s not trying to jump scare you. There are tortures and humiliations, but beneath the surface, they have more to do with the sadism of one’s own guilt and self-loathing than, say, whatever clean loop of morality drives this or that unkillable slasher.

The family members come to realize they must rescue themselves, but can they? These labyrinthine emotional dungeons are difficult to escape. People who receive a wound as deep as what has struck these characters are often trapped by it, working through it again and again, looking for the alternate path they should have taken. The movie has insight into ways different people try to cope.

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If you’re curious, the title comes from the French lullaby “Le coq est mort (The Rooster Is Dead),” that haunts the film: “The rooster’s dead, the rooster’s dead / He’ll no longer sing ‘Co-co-di, co-co-da.’ ”

'Koko-di Koko-da'

In Swedish and Danish with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

Playing: Available Nov. 6 via virtual theaters. including Laemmle Theatres; Dec. 8 on VOD


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