Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge.
Way back in October 2011 I took a trip to Toronto for the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, and it remains one of my absolute favorite vacations because everything was fun and everyone was AWESOME. I feel like the Toronto film blogger/writer community is collectively enticing the rest of us to move there, and it's totally working. While there I got to see Guillermo del Toro speak at the TIFF Lightbox, and he sort of tracked his whole career through film clips and anecdotes, and I learned a bit about the two I'd never seen: Cronos and Mimic. Ever since catching a glimpse of a mysterious older man licking blood off the floor of a sparkling white marble bathroom, I knew Cronos should be a priority. Yet somehow it took me until now to see it, thanks to the Brattle's del Toro retrospective. The film concerns an antiques dealer and loving grandfather, Jesús (Federico Lippi), who stumbles upon a device that can give its user immortality, but with the unfortunate side effect of bloodlust. A sickly American millionaire (Claudio Brook) and his antagonistic nephew (Ron Perlman) have been seeking the device for years, and will stop at nothing to claim it from Jesús, who's been using it despite not fully understanding its capabilities.
Del Toro's first feature film, Cronos is an impressive indicator of the filmmaker's strong storytelling skills and visual innovation already in play. (It also reveals his interest in steampunky clockwork at an earlier juncture than I thought!) With stark, meticulous shots and a script that relies more on its premise's implications for its horror than outright scares, the film is a dark but entertaining venture. I loved Ron Perlman's performance, playing a comedic but grossly violent character who resents his abusive uncle but does his bidding anyway, presumably out of greed for the sick man's money. He's obsessed with getting a nose job, but he keeps getting punched and his nose just gets worse. He adds a nice dose of humor in an otherwise strictly dramatic film, and played well against Federico Luppi's confused desperation. There is a streak of melodrama running throughout the story, highlighted by the intense visuals and emotional story, but the actors keep things grounded enough to not overwhelm the audience. There's an unfortunately sappy element in Jesús's wordless granddaughter, who was very cute but so obvious in her status as a plot device.
I loved the blood and guts, the extreme color contrasts, the weirdness, the grubby mortician, the dancing, the subverted religious imagery, and, of course, the vampirism. It's at times off-putting in its pacing, and I can't quite get over the eye-rolling sentimentality with the granddaughter, but all in all it's a seriously strong debut from del Toro. Its themes of aging, sickness, and immortality seem out of place in the writing of a twentysomething filmmaker, but he handles them adeptly and maturely, and set the stage for the fantastical and moving films to come.
Pair This Movie With: We all know my favorite weird, dark vampire movie is Thirst, and I will always recommend that over almost any other movie in general, really. Other good pairings would be The Devil's Backbone, del Toro's dramatic ghost story set during the Spanish Civil War, or Phase IV, which came to mind with all the weird bug stuff in Cronos.