Karlovy Vary 2019 Review: ‘Koko-di Koko-da’ an arthouse spin on Happy Death Day

Two years after losing their only child, a bickering couple goes on a hasty camping trip in the middle of the Scandanavian wilderness in Koko-di Koko-da, an intriguing little horror film blended with slapstick comedy screened at this year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

But when Elin (Ylva Gallon) wakes the next morning to relieve herself, she’s inadvertently approached by a trio of psychopaths who look like they came straight from the carnival: a garrulous man with a bowler hat and cane (Peter Belli) and his two silent sidekicks, a girl with a pitbull on a chain (Katrina Jakobson), and a hulking brute (Morad Baloo Khatchadorian).

As the trio of crazies attack his wife, Tobias (Leif Edlund) can only look on in fear from his tent. But he, too, will soon become their target.

While the couple is terrorized by these crazies for the rest of the film, Koko-di Koko-da is not an unsettling Funny Games-like thriller. Instead, death comes quick for the pair. But they wake up the next morning to experience the exact same scenario.

While Elin remembers nothing of the previous events, Tobias seems to at least partially recall their own murder, and something akin to an arthouse spin on Happy Death Day is born as he attempts to outrun his fate over the course of five or six more attacks.

It’s darkly fun watching Tobias try to figure out a path of escape – we, too, attempt to follow the dreamlike logic behind what spawns the cretins – and at a brisk 86-minute running time, Koko-di Koko-da never outstays its welcome.

Written and directed by Swedish artist and animator Johannes Nyholm, the primary events of Koko-di Koko-da are bookended by a pair of evocative puppet-animated sequences that nicely tie together the themes of loss and mortality faced by the film’s two protagonists.

Well-cast and well-played – 60s pop star Belli is especially menacing as the chief antagonist – Koko-di Koko-da manages to get us to invest in these characters despite the gimmicky nature of the premise. While Nyholm never revels in the terror – torture is not a focus, and many of the deaths occur offscreen – he manages to create a consistent atmosphere of dread that even results in a few genuine scares.

There isn’t much more to Koko-di Koko-da besides the central allegory – underlined by the animated sequences lest you miss anything – and viewers will quickly realize that the film isn’t going to attempt much in the way of a story-driven narrative. But the result is a surprisingly engaging little thriller that provides a lot of food for thought.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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