Over the years, filmmakers have used cinema to represent and recreate the world of dreams and nightmares.
Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman stand out in my mind, back in the days when I began to seriously study cinema.
There have been many others.
Now comes Koko-Di Koko-Da from Swedish director Johannes Nyholm. It is a movie that was written by Nyholm when he was awakened from a disturbing dream at 3 a.m.
It is a movie that takes place in the middle of the night, in the twilight zone of consciousness when the lines between reality and fantasy blur.
In this case, it’s the story of a young couple struggling to recover from shattering loss and overwhelming grief that threatens to tear their relationship apart.
Three years after the event, they go on an ill-fated camping trip, pulling off the road in the middle of a dark night and setting up their tiny tent deep in the middle of a dark forest.
What follows is a nightmarish sequence of events that repeats and repeats.
It’s like a sinister version of the Harold Ramis/Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day (1993).
Horrible things happen, and when they seem to be over, time resets and repeats, and they re-live their terror again and again.
Each time it repeats, their vague sense of déjà vu triggers an attempt to escape the imprisonment of their time loop. The scenario changes slightly each time, but the outcome seems brutally, fatalistically inescapable.
Koko-Di Koko-Da is in some ways a dark fairy tale. An illustrated music box plays a pivotal role in the story.
The characters painted on the side become terrifying real.
They appear to be escapees from a lost Fellini script, a carnivalesque group of people, including a creepy elderly man in a white suit wearing a straw hat, a scary witch-like woman, and a couple of dogs, one of which is apparently dead, being carried by an ominous, dull-witted thug of a strong man with a threatening disposition.
Their very presence is terrifying.
They are castaways from the deepest recesses of our unconscious state. Weirdly unsettling.
Something you don’t rationally understand. But something you know you need to run to escape from, as hard as you can.
The repetitiousness of the plot is like a recurring dream, or perhaps a recurring nightmare, the kind you momentarily awake from only to find yourself helplessly returning to when you fall back asleep.
Writer/director Johannes Nyholm does a good job putting his personal fears and anxieties on film.
There is a sense of familiarity to the story, as surreal as it is.
When staging live-action scenes with actors can’t express all Nyholm wants to convey, he resorts to short animation sequences to take us further into the story.
His background as an animator opens a creative door allowing him to stage shadow puppet sequences featuring a cute bunny family whose story-within-a-story parallels the couple's dark journey in yet another layer of dreams.
Koko-Di Koko-Da is a non-traditional, independently produced film.
It falls into the category of what used to be referred to as foreign, “art” films.
It is bold and unconventional from the ground up, which is to say from the script to the final cut.
It’s one of those movies that pushes the envelope by telling a very personal story in a very personal way.
It’s not a movie for everyone. But it’s a movie for people who love movies and aren’t afraid to venture into the recesses someone else’s subconsciousness for a few hours. It takes you down a dark path where many movies fear to tread.
Koko-Di Koko-Da opens November 6 in select virtual theaters across the country, with more to follow. Click here to buy tickets. VOD availability begins December 8.
Photo Credits: Dark Star Pictures