▶︎ Koko-di Koko-da is available on BFI Player.

Johannes Nyholm’s cruelly ludic second feature, which takes its title from the refrain of Our Rooster’s Dead, a Swedish nursery rhyme (a jaunty ditty that recurs throughout), appropriates the often used template of Groundhog Day (1993) and stirs in elements of The Babadook (2014), Midsommar (2019) and a soupçon of David Lynch. Which isn’t to damn it as unoriginal. There’s enough ruthless ingenuity on display here to keep us guessing, even if the overall trajectory can be foreseen.

The film’s most bizarre element is the grotesque trio who launch repeated time-looped attacks on Tobias (Leif Edlund) and Elin (Ylva Gallon), a hapless couple still grief-stricken over the loss of their daughter Maja three years before and now making a camping trip to the woods in a desperate attempt to shore up their fracturing relationship.

The three attackers, who seem to emanate from some infernal circus sideshow, are Mog (Danish pop singer Peter Belli), spruce, plump and sadistically chortling in his white three-piece suit and straw boater; Sampo (Morad Baloo Khatchadorian), a brutal, bearded giant with a dead dog in his arms; and pale, pistol-toting Cherry (Brandy Litmanen), with her long lank hair and a pit bull on a chain.

null
Koko-di Koko-da (2019)

This trio first show up in a brief pre-credit sequence, then again in cartoons on the old-fashioned music box that Tobias and Elin buy Maja for her birthday (which, of course, plays Our Rooster’s Dead). And in the final sequence it seems that it was Tobias and Elin who accidentally killed Sampo’s dog – more time-juggling.

After each murder spree, the camera pulls up and away to a God’s-eye angle, isolating ghouls and victims in their woodland clearing as if in an amphitheatre. At intervals we’re treated to primitive shadow-puppet displays, featuring a cockerel shot by rabbit archers – reminding us that when we first meet the ill-fated family, they’re wearing crude bunny-makeup.

Altogether, animal imagery abounds: each farcical slaughterfest is prefaced by the apparition of a white cat stalking haughtily off into the forest. As so often in horror movies (from 1934’s The Black Cat to 1983’s Cujo and beyond), uncanny animals stand in for human angsts. But Koko-di Koko-da doesn’t really need to be rationalised. Nyholm is out to unsettle us with a mix of twisted humour, encroaching grief and surreal violence – and for the most part, he succeeds.

Originally published: 9 September 2020