Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Cast: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook, Tamara Shanath
Plot: A mysterious device designed to provide its owner with eternal life resurfaces after four hundred years, leaving a trail of destruction in its path.
Genre: Horror / Mystery
Awards: Won Mercedes-Benz Award (Cannes).
Rating: NC16 for horror violence and for language.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“Among the victims was a man of strange skin, the colour of marble in moonlight. His chest mortally pierced, his last words... Suo tempore. This was the alchemist.”
I was surprised to find out that Guillermo Del Toro has to date only made a handful of features – eight to be exact over the last twenty years, including his upcoming blockbuster Pacific Rim (2013), which promises to be his most ambitious film yet.
His first, Cronos, lays the visionary groundwork that would become a hallmark of his works – mythic visuals, images of turning gears, and a rich production design that is a mix of reality and fantasy. It is an unorthodox piece of filmmaking really, quite bold and different, though it is a mixed bag that does not satisfy as much as his later (and more entertaining) features such as Blade II (2002) and Hellboy (2004).
A young-looking Ron Perlman is the most recognizable face in the film, playing a deranged character who has a sadistic nature but falls under the control of his mysterious uncle, who lives in isolation atop an industrial building. The uncle wants immortality as he is suffering from a slow death.
There is a device made centuries ago by an alchemist that could prolong life only if certain conditions are met. We don't know what those conditions are, but what we do know is that the device - the ‘Cronos’ - has inadvertently fallen into the hands of an old antique collector named Jesus Gris and his mute granddaughter Aurora.
Federico Luppi plays the old collector in a performance I would describe as one that invokes pity. It is a bleak tale, with nothing optimistic coming out of the film, except for a possibly beautiful, albeit unconventional relationship between Jesus, a victim of curiosity, and Aurora, an innocent believer of fantasy. The granddaughter can be seen as a shadow image of Ofelia in Del Toro's Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), both of whom are seemingly at ease with the fantastical or the unreal.
Like Let the Right One In (2008), Cronos is a ‘vampire’ movie in disguise as a drama. While it contains a couple of scenes with quite outstanding practical makeup effects that reveal the horror of a vampiric rebirth, Cronos is not quite there as a film that frightens.
The climatic sequence atop a building on a narrow ledge could have possibly inspired a loosely similar fight scene in Dark City (1998). It doesn’t quite feel exciting though; neither does it feel like a no-holds-barred showdown between good versus evil. Rather, it is a battle of men whose previous interactions with each other have decided their future destinies.
Cronos does suffer from a slow pacing and the mix of Spanish and English used in dialogue exchanges feels indescribably strange. It might have worked better if it was shot entirely in Spanish, even if it meant not casting Perlman, who is not exactly indispensable here.
Verdict: Del Toro's debut feature is a mixed bag - an unorthodox mystery-drama that satisfies only sporadically.
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