{Movie Review} Koko-di Koka-da: A Bloody Groundhog Day for a Grieving Couple

Don’t let the nursery rhyme title of Koko-di Koka-da fool you. This backwoods horror film blends psychological terror with dark comedy in superb fashion. The joint Swedish-Danish feature has a Groundhog Day-like premise, where a grieving couple relives a nightmare repeatedly, with slight variations. But beneath the film’s scares, absurdity, and surrealism lies a story about a couple unable to escape their pain.

Written and directed by Johannes Nyholm, and based on his short “The Music Box”, Koko-di Koka-da follows Tobias (Leif Edlund) and Elin (Yiva Gallon), a couple who tragically lost their daughter, Maja (Katarina Jakobson). Three years later, they embark on a camping trip. However, they don’t pick a populated campground. Instead, they veer deep into the woods. That’s when the fun begins.

Each night, a sideshow artist, his goons, and a hungry mutt murder one half of the couple and leave the other badly shaken. Even if they flee the scene before the monstrous sideshow act shows up, Tobias and Elin can’t escape their fate. It’s a vicious and surreal cycle. The three creepy figures are characters painted on the side of their daughter’s music box.  It’s unclear if they’re part of the nursery rhyme or not and why they’re tormenting the couple.

The narrative logic makes little sense. Yet, the film holds a strange sort of power. From Olof Corneer and Simon Ohlsson’s carnival-like score, to the backwoods terror, the film is oddly affecting. Further, there’s a theatrical quality that’s spellbinding and dream-like. This is especially true when the sideshow artist and his menacing entourage show up. Their make-up, costumes, and props, which include a gun and a dead dog, look like something out of a vaudeville act gone horribly wrong. When the first few nightmares end, the camera pulls back to a lingering long shot, like the end of an act. This camera work enhances the film’s surreal and theatrical qualities.

Courtesy of Shudder

Yet, weirdness aside, the film is slightly anchored by a dash of realism, specifically a couple coping with a private tragedy. They spend much of their time arguing, be it over ice cream flavors or the camping trip itself. Their repeated car rides feel painfully long, but perhaps that’s the point. They’re stuck with each other and unable to move on from the past. They rehash the same arguments without making any progress or moving forward in their relationship, hence why the Ground Hog aspects of the film work so well. They’re trapped in the same cycle since the loss of their daughter.

Again, Nyholm’s direction and camera work deserves props. Each time the couple argues in the car, it’s witnessed from a backseat perspective, as if the audience is riding along with the couple, hearing them bicker. The car rides feel both tense and claustrophobic. It’s  a trip from hell that’s as inescapable as the horror they face in the woods.

Koko-di Koko-da is a film that I’d return to again. It blends psychological terror with dark comedy in stellar fashion. Yet, beyond the theatrics lies a story about a couple’s struggles to move forward and process their pain in a healthy fashion. Even with all the absurdity, Koko-di Koka-da has real human emotion at its center. This combination of humanity and absurdity is just one more reason why it works so well.

Koka-di Koko-da premieres on Shudder March 18.