One of the most anticipated films at the North Bend Film Fest was Johannes Nyholm’s Koko-di Koko-da. This abstract and surreal piece of fantasy is a tense illustration of the never-ending nightmare that is the grief process.

Three years after suffering the tragic loss of their daughter, Tobias (Lief Edlund) and Elin (Ylva Gallon) decide to take a camping trip together. Their marriage has been strained (to say the least) since their daughter’s death. They don’t communicate at all, they argue constantly over mundane things, and they can barely stand to be in each other’s presence. Some people are able to heal through grief, and for others, it tears them apart. We get the sense that this relationship is very much in its last days, and that this trip could be the one last effort to try to save it (although they don’t seem to be trying terribly hard).

In the early hours of the morning, they awaken to find a strange group of people—almost carnival performers—outside their tent. The group harasses and torments the couple in a number of brutal and humiliating ways, before ultimately killing them. When it is all over, Tobias and Elin awaken in their tent, just as they had right before the trio of characters arrived. This cycle repeats time and time again, trapping them in a repeating nightmare of fear and death.

Interestingly, it breaches the classic time loop trope in that our characters don’t really learn and better their situation with each pass through the reality. Tobias, in particular, flat out performs worse each time around. He doesn’t seem to gain knowledge by repeating this experience, and instead, his fear simply compounds. He awakens more and more terrified each time and tries desperately to escape before they can arrive (often without Elin in tow). They are trapped as much by their inability to communicate as they are by whatever dark forces are at play in the woods.

The film illustrates how we can lash out while experiencing grief. Their daughter’s death was a tragic accident. Neither of them could have prevented it and neither is to blame, but they can’t seem to share the emotional burden together. Each person is handling it on their own (badly).

The nightmare group of characters who attack Tobias and Elin are surreal and frightful. They are led by a small man in a straw hat and a cane who whistles an unnerving children’s song. The rest of the group is comprised by a strong, largely mute Brute, a tall, devilish-looking woman with cartoonish hair and a vicious dog. They are in every way a twisted nursery come to life and each of them adds to the nightmarish quality of the hell that the couple finds themselves in.

The films comes to a bit of an abrupt ending, but not before giving the audience plenty of unsettling moments. The strange group of tomenters is weird enough, but the story also brings a magical kitty and a heart-breaking puppet show into play. Koko-di Koko-da is not afraid to embrace the strange, and that fact definitely works to its advantage. It establishes a somber mood that is punctuated by moments of fear and an ever-present tension that builds. It illustrates the way that grief, while natural, can eventually become its own trap if not tended to properly.

Movie Score: 4/5

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Check here to read all of Emily von Seele's North Bend Film Fest 2019 reviews!

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