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Film Review: “Koko-Di Koko-Da“ Turns the Grieving Process into a Twee and Taxing Terror

Written by: Hannah Tran | November 5th, 2020

Film poster: “Koko-Di Koko-Da“

Koko-Di Koko-Da (Johannes Nyholm, 2019) 1½ out of 4 stars.

The feeling of grief is not exclusive to any one place or people. The way that we process grief, however, can vary widely between each individual. In the Swedish-Danish co-production Koko-Di Koko-Da, a Sundance-premiered film about a couple attempting to share a camping trip together three years after the death of their daughter, the process of grief turns into an uncanny, Groundhog Day-esque horror as they are forced to confront the traumas of their past and attempt to survive a murderous trio of forest-dwelling misfits in their present.

Koko-Di Koko-Da starts off with a bang; it goes downhill from there. Most of the psychopathic antics of the band of otherworldly murderers never live up to the more organic horror of the film’s early moments. And as we follow our couple, Elin and Tobias, as they attempt to survive their weekend getaway, each encounter remembering more from the last, it becomes difficult to sort out which of these experiences are truly moving these characters further in their grieving process. Many scenarios the film presents feel superfluous to its overarching perspective. The perspectives of the lead characters, furthermore, are equally unclear. It is difficult to fully connect to either half of the couple as the film fails to put its full focus on either one of them, let alone make them likeable.

Peter Belli, Brandy Litmanen and Johannes Nyholm in KOKO-DI KOKO-DA ©Dark Star Pictures

Despite this, the two lead performances, by Ylva Gallon and Leif Edlund as Elin and Tobias, respectively, are delivered with an unadorned subtlety that carry many of the film’s duller moments through their repetitiveness. The effective simplicity of the dialogue and action have a large part to play in this. And while it is understandable on a narrative level that the script be so set on separating these two in their quests to survive, it does often feel as though we are losing something from their natural chemistry by their minimal connection throughout.

Although the dialogue and character reactions mostly feel natural and appropriately restrained, the thematic presentation often feels either too abstract or far too on the nose. A crudely drawn theatrical show illuminates much of what we’ve already seen and offers little resolution for it. It’s a fine balance between fostering understanding and overexplaining. Moreover, the character designs of the psychopathic fantasy characters, although creepy, feel a little dated and overly-assertive in their quirkiness. With a powerful beginning and an equally strong ending, the story of Elin and Tobias is one that is just able to find its purpose amongst a muddled and directionless middle. While it offers the fresh new setting of a camping trip in a Swedish forest, the tricks up Koko-Di Koko-Da’s sleeves are all ones that we’ve seen before; and we’ve seen them be better. 

Leif Edlund in KOKO-DI KOKO-DA ©Dark Star Pictures

Hannah Tran is a film critic and filmmaker from Las Vegas, Nevada. Hannah works as a film screener for the Las Vegas Film Festival and publishes an independent zine focused on highlighing Asian American filmmaking.

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