Grief can be a horrible, insidious force that tears apart families and destroys everything that it touches, and it's those themes that are at the heart of writer/director Johannes Nyholm’s Koko-Di Koko-Da, his surreal cinematic meditation on the difficulties of navigating your way through the grieving process. Beyond that, the film also features a quirky band of misfits that feel plucked straight out of a Grimm fairytale, as well as a poignant, lovely, and show-stoppingly great shadow puppet play as well, making Koko-Di Koko-Da a truly unique viewing experience.

The film recently played as part of the 2019 Fantastic Fest, and during the festival, Daily Dead spoke with Nyholm about his approach to the story, mixing visual mediums for Koko-Di Koko-Da, and how he created the film’s dreamy surreal aesthetic.

I would love to start at the beginning and talk about how you approached this story, because we've seen movies about grief, we've seen movies about families falling apart, and yet, there's something very different about this story and how you approached it. How did everything initially come together for you story-wise?

Johannes Nyholm: The origin of the story is based on something I experience myself. I registered everything that's happened in the field in one way or the other, and I can say maybe the field is a little bit like my life through the grief. It's a combination of dreams that I've had and the things that have happened that I’ve had to deal with. The whole film has the structure of a dream and it's also, in a sense, a dream. It's set in the really early morning hour and that's the time where, in your mind, you have the most violent dreams. So, it made sense that it is the time when the whole film is acted out. It’s also when we shot a lot of the film during production.

Can you discuss mixing mediums for Koko-Di Koko-Da? I think it adds a lot to the story and really adds some heightened emotions as well.

Johannes Nyholm: Yeah, the idea was to tell the story from different perspectives, in a way. When you’re following these characters after their tragedy, you're seeing them from a close distance, whether you're trapped in the claustrophobic tent with them, or you're trapped in the car together with them, I wanted it to feel like as an audience member, you were also in the situation with them, too. Then, it gets really intense, violent, and tough for the audience to be in that place, so I felt that I had to add the puppet elements to show the story from another perspective, just so it felt a bit more timeless, too.

As Elin is watching that shadow play, she’s watching a condensed version of her own life, and the life she has shared with her family. The life with ups and downs, with happiness and sadness. To me, it's important to show that this film is not just about letting go, and what that means for modern relationships. I wanted it to be a little bit more of a universal story, a little bit more timeless story about trying to be human in a complex and very fragile world. This sad shadow play uses a very old technique; it’s the way you told stories thousands of years before the cinema camera was invented, and I thought it would work perfectly here.

You mentioned that you guys shot this very early in the mornings, which gives the second half of the film this hazy, dreamy feeling to it. Can you talk about the visual approach to this? I thought it was interesting that in the beginning of the movie, when everything is still good and happy, you utilize these bright, vibrant colors. And then, after tragedy strikes, there's a coldness to the color palettes that you use. It also feels very damp, which adds this feeling of heaviness to the visual style as well. I thought that made for a really interesting juxtaposition between the two parts of the film.

Johannes Nyholm: Yeah, you're absolutely right. There is a really a big contrast between the beginning of the film and the rest of it. The first part of the movie feels like the beginning of a relationship, where everything is just fun and games, and it has this jolly, childish tone to it. The camera language is different then, too, in terms of the the way we worked with the camera there.

The other part of the film, there's very little color, especially because most of it takes place early in the morning, which is when you have this uncontrasted light happening all around. It has this foggy, mist-filled tone to it. It's like they’re in limbo, and so there’s not much color around them, which helps make everything feel more claustrophobic and oppressive.


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  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.