REVIEW: DVD Release: Cronos

Film: Cronos
Release date: 6th February 2006
Certificate: 18
Running time: 88 mins
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Starring: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook, Margarita Isabel, Tamara Shanath
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Horror/Thriller
Studio: Optimum
Format: DVD
Country: Mexico

As the first feature of Guillermo Del Toro, Cronos has gained notoriety due to the Mexican writer and director’s more successful later films, including Pan’s Labyrinth and Hollywood blockbusters such as Hellboy.

In 1536, alchemist Humberto Oganelli creates the Cronos device, a small golden casing containing an intricate mechanism and an immortal parasite. The device, designed to bestow eternal life on its owner, is merely the stuff of legend until it is discovered by antiques dealer, Jesus Gris, in the base of a wooden statue. Gris accidentally triggers the mechanism within the device, which clamps to his hand and draws blood.

Agreeing with his young granddaughter Aurora to keep the Cronos device a secret, Jesus develops a desperate thirst, and later allows the device to feed on his blood. Jesus becomes noticeably rejuvenated but has develops a craving for blood.

The existence of the device is also known by the dying Dieter de la Guardia, who assigns his nephew, Angel, the task of locating the statue and its priceless cargo. Angel fails to recover the Cronos device, and later appears to kill Jesus in an attempt to beat him into submission. Jesus lies unconscious during his own funeral, narrowly avoids being cremated and escapes, although his body is rotting. He finds his way to his granddaughter’s rooftop den, where he avoids sunlight by sleeping in her toy box.

Jesus and Aurora search de la Guardia’s quarters for the manuscript explaining how to safely use the Cronos device. They are confronted by de la Guardia and Angel and become involved in a battle to escape…

From unquenchable thirst to slow realisation that he hungers for raw meat and then blood, Jesus’ descent into vampirism is gradual, affecting and, in context, forgivable. As the device rejuvenates the old antiques dealer, Federico Luppi (in a role originally written for Max Von Sydow) gives a portrayal of a man with a new lease of life that is heart-warming, yet tinged with sadness, as Jesus acknowledges the high price of this reinvigoration. The sexual nature of Jesus’ sessions with the Cronos device adds an uncomfortable element far removed from other vampire stories’ rape metaphors – Jesus’ lust for blood rarely involves other people, as he seeks to assuage his bloodlust in a non-violent manner. Scenes showing Jesus distressed over whether to lick spilt blood from the floor of a bathroom are upsetting and wonderfully staged.

Cronos has terrific production standards for a first time feature. Interiors are well-worn and grimy, Jesus’ shop is filled with authentic-looking antiques, and de la Guardia’s quarters above an industrial complex are sinister and sterile. Moreover, Del Toro draws horrific scenes from innocuous events and objects: in particular, the deadly Cronos device itself, with its intricate, syringe-like mechanism, produces some effective chills.

The film is notable for being dual-language – Ron Perlman switches between Spanish and English, and the opening narration is also in English. Del Toro’s disregard for filmic conventions in spoken language pervades other parts of the film, which is filled with pleasingly specific quirks, such as Aurora’s rooftop den, the grandfather’s miniature tea party with his granddaughter, and the grimy crematorium with its nonchalant worker.

Compared to many vampire films, Cronos is concise – thematically, as well as in terms of setting. There is a neat circularity to its features: for example, it is Angel who searches for the archangel, and the image of beetles recur throughout – first crawling out of the statue’s face, then mirrored in the appearance and piercing ‘attack’ of the Cronos device.

While Luppi appears in almost every scene, the supporting cast is equally dependable. Ron Perlman’s Angel De la Guardia is callous and self-centred, providing many of the comic moments in the film, as well as being the most repellent character. His grunting horseplay with Aurora at the beginning of the film is both humorous and deeply sinister, as is his bizarre preoccupation with cosmetic surgery. Jesus’ wife Mercedes is played by Margarita Isabel with sad-eyed humanity, providing naïve warmth to balance the coldness of the film’s villains.

Cronos include many themes that Del Toro would explore in his later films The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, particularly the inclusion of a wise but innocent child. However, this film is notable (in Del Toro’s oeuvre - and horror cinema in general) for viewing events through the eyes of an elderly man, thus relegating the child to bystander.

Cronos doesn’t entirely break the mould of horror cinema, however. In particular, the exaggerated, slurping sounds of flowing blood are oddly conventional in a film that appears brave in many other respects, and Javier Álvarez’s score is effective but again adds little to the atmosphere.

It’s clear to see why Cronos secured Guillermo Del Toro’s reputation as an imaginative and resourceful director. It is easily one of the most effective horror chillers of the 1990s, and its casual disregard for cinematic conventions is welcome in a genre that too often veers close to pastiche. It’s visceral, affecting and unusual – and, in its small way, Cronos is a triumph of truly international cinema. TM

1 comment: