You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘Koko-di Koko-da’

Three psychopaths kill a grieving couple (again and again and again) in Johannes Nyholm's sinister fable.

Johannes Nyholm

Ylva Gallon, Leif Edlund Johansson, Peter Belli. (Swedish, Danish dialogue)

1 hour 26 minutes.

When “Koko-di Koko-da” characters Elin (Ylva Gallon) and Tobias (Leif Edlund) discover their daughter Maja dead on her eighth birthday, they think life couldn’t get worse. Shockingly, it can. The film jumps ahead three years to the couple’s miserable camping holiday, which gets interrupted by three psychopaths — a dandy in a bowler hat, a big-haired girl, and a giant — who kill them, over and over again, with guns, knives, fists, and a very hungry dog. The wicked murderers have no motive. They’re just inevitable death — as is all death — no matter how hard people like Elin and Tobias and, well, all of us try to escape.

Writer-director Johannes Nyholm’s fable about grief is at once brutal and childlike, a horror-show that hums along to a nursery rhyme that gives “Koko-di Koko-da” its name. Not that children should be allowed anywhere near Nyholm’s bloody nihilism, where even his handmade cartoons of a bunny family bouncing around a monochromatic forest could give a kid nightmares. Nyholm uses every tool to make people anxious, from the way Elin rages at Tobias for buying her the wrong ice cream flavor to the buzzing mosquito sounds he adds to their tent for an extra twist of tension. Early in the film, he ends every scene with an abrupt bang. Later, when the couple is yet again captured by the fiends, he looks down on the tableau from an agonizingly still aerial shot to underscore the futility of giving the killers the slip.

“Koko-di Koko-da” is heavy with dread and loss. Unlike the characters in other infinite-loop flicks like “Groundhog Day” and “Happy Death Day,” the doomed duo don’t get smarter with each do-over. Husband Tobias just gets jumpier, like a deer who senses hunters in the woods. He doesn’t, however, get nobler. The first time the trio arrives at camp, he cowers in his tent while the gargantuan strongman (Morad Baloo Khatchadorian) slow-dances with his unconscious wife. In flashbacks, Nyholm shows us enough of the couple’s dysfunction that we’d almost — almost — forgive Tobin for leaving Elin behind. But like the death of their daughter, they’re once more forced to face death together, without much trust that they’ll ever again be a united team.

Popular on Variety

Danish audiences will get a kick out of the stunt casting of ’60s rock star Peter Belli as the most talkative murderer. And yet, even they might retch at a scene where he sings “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy,” a chart hit from the same period when Belli was opening for the Beatles, mostly because of an obscenity he’s commanded the dog to do. In that low moment, Nyholm chooses shock over substance. Otherwise, the film avoids gross-out shivers in favor of the quiet torture of expecting death behind every tree, and a score that rattles the nerves with chimes and clocks, as though Elin and Tobias are just the dolls belonging to a sadistic child, which is one way of describing the relationship between an actor and certain directors. (Nyholm may be one.)

In this heightened allegory, everything is mossy with symbolism, even a shot of a spider weaving a trap. Nyholm could make a great, purist horror film if he was interested. He can definitely set a mood. His forest is so thick with suspense, he get a surprised scream just from letting loose a white cat. (It’s not entirely clear what the cat means, though one wishes it had a bigger role.) “Koko-di Koko-da” feels at once too textured and too thin. Perhaps, Nyholm might counter that life is the same — significant and disposable in the same breath. He forces us to face that death will eventually catch us all, and that grief can kill the soul while you’re still alive. Still, Elin and Tobias keep fighting to exist. And as grim as this movie gets, there’s something beautiful in that.

Sundance Film Review: 'Koko-di Koko-da'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema Dramatic Competition), Jan. 31, 2019. (Also in Rotterdam, Göteborg film festivals.) Running time: 86 MIN.


(Sweden-Denmark) A Picturehouse presentation of a Johannes Nyholm Produktion, Beofilm production. (Int'l sales: Stray Dogs, Paris.) Producer: Johannes Nyholm. Co-producer: Maria Møller Christoffersen. Executive producer: Peter Hyldahl.


Director, writer: Johannes Nyholm. Camera (color): Johan Lundborg, Tobias Höiem-Flyckt. Editor: Nyholm. Music: Simon Ohlsson, Olof Cornéer.


Ylva Gallon, Leif Edlund Johansson, Peter Belli. (Swedish, Danish dialogue)

More Film

  • Danny Aiello

    Danny Aiello, 'Do the Right Thing' and 'Moonstruck' Actor, Dies at 86

    Danny Aiello, a character actor best known for his work in such features as “Do The Right Thing” and “Moonstruck,” died Thursday night in New Jersey, the New York Times reports. He was 86. Aiello worked steadily in films starting in the mid-1970s, often playing cops, mobsters and other variations on the New York tough [...]

  • Reed Hastings

    Netflix to Launch Its Paris Office on Jan. 17

    Netflix is getting ready to officially launch its swanky Paris office on Jan. 17. The streaming giant has planned an afternoon of discussions that gather together Netflix executives, including the company’s co-founder, chairman and CEO Reed Hastings, as well as the filmmakers and producers who have worked with Netflix. As previously announced, the French outpost [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Hollywood’s 10 Worst Depictions of Female Music Journalists

    As controversy builds around “Richard Jewell” and its depiction of female journalists, it’s nothing new for women music writers on the silver screen. Although “Crazy Heart,” which premiered 10 years ago this month, was basically 2009’s equivalent of Bradley Cooper’s remake of “A Star Is Born,” it hasn’t had quite the staying power of some [...]


    Secuoya, Planeta Launch Madrid Content City, Site of Netflix’s First European Production Hub

    Spain’s Secuoya Studios has teamed with publishing giant the Planeta Group to expand Madrid Content City, the audiovisual complex that hosts Netflix first European Production Hub. Madrid Content City will multiply by a factor of seven its current operating area of 22,000 square-meters (236,806 square-feet). In total, Madrid Content City will span 140,000 square-meters (1.5 [...]

  • Imogen Poots

    'Black Christmas' Star Imogen Poots on Why Male Horror Fans Should See Slasher Remake

    “Black Christmas” is the second remake of the 1974 slasher classic, which centers on a group of sorority sisters stalked by an unknown murderer. While the original had the female protagonists (SPOILER) offed, in this one, the women fight back. “It’s been called a re-imagining of the original, and I think, in ways that the [...]

  • Imogen Poots as Riley in "Black

    'Black Christmas': Film Review

    “Black Christmas,” a low-budget Canadian horror movie released in 1974, was a slasher thriller with a difference: It was the very first one! Okay, there were more than a few precedents, from “Psycho” (the great-granddaddy of the genre) to “The Last House on the Left” and “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” to Mario Bava’s “A [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content