Film Reviews:


(Guillermo del Toro, Mexico, 1994)

Cronos - UK video sleeveCronos is that rarity: a horror film of consummate sophistication that reveres rather than despises its genre, whose glossy, stylish visuals provide powerful images as illumination for a satisfying story, rather than as a consolation for the lack of one. After all much mid-90s talk of a new, up-market horror film merely resulted in the flashy flaccidity of Bram Stoker's Dracula, Wolf's 'just slumming it' snobbery and the lukewarm Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, it is ironic that a low-budget Mexican vampire film (a project that Hollywood prejudice would have consigned to the straight to video garbage bin simply on its lack of star elements) should succeed where these over-hyped films failed, by adroitly mixing cerebral art film with the 'nasty' horror film.

The result is beguiling, thought-provoking, and cinematically ground breaking. After a short prologue, Cronos centres on Jesus Gris (Frederico Luppi), an aged grandfather who plays happily with his young grand-daughter Aurora in his cluttered antique shop. One day, they discover that a statuette of an angel they have in stock is hollow. Gris holds it in his palm. metal insect legs shoot out, spiking into flesh, drawing blood. Within the device, glittering cogs turns, rumbling deeply, delivering blood to something soft, something alive. Gris soon notices a change: he is getting , and despite the agony the Cronos device holds an irresistible ecstasy. Unfortunately for him, a millionaire has been searching for this strange secret of immortality, and he is not about to loose it to anyone.

Eschewing the instant cliches of MTV chaos-theory jump edits, Cronos unfolds at a measured pace, using long, dreamlike camera glides to ensnare the viewer in its dream-logic world. The characters constantly alternate between English and Spanish, adding to the sense of dislocation. Each scene is allowed to have full impact, and like the slow, merciless destruction of James Woods' hand in Cronenberg's classic Videodrome, director Guillermo del Toro denies the easy relief of a quick glimpse and away. You are to see, and understand. Like Shinya Tsukamoto, del Toro has been deeply influenced by the genius of David Cronenberg, but in ways that are almost polar opposites of the Tetsuo films. Not the urgent verite of Shivers and Rabid, but the mature, higher budget Cronenberg of Videodrome, Naked Lunch and Dead Ringers, mixed with a surefooted tackling of art house themes that will encourage more serious critical respect for del Toro than Cronenberg was generally allowed for the bulk of his career.

Cronos is a film of great innate strength, derived from the symbolic relationship of pictures and plot and the originality of both. Del Toro is sometimes almost perverse in his refusal to show the standard images of a vampire film. Gris does not hunt for victims, he simply drinks spilt blood. he does not thrill to his powers, the mundane world taints them, making them just another chore. Sunlight and lack of blood hurt, but not spectacularly. All is just degrees of pain for this immortal. Instead of the expected, there is millionaire Claudio Brook sitting surrounded by polythene sheathed angels, striking and meaningful. Here is a man attempting to haul the magical down into the realm of hard cash. There is a man suspended upside down in metal scaffold, dripping blood, and there is skin peeling back to reveal the true face of eternity. It isn't Tom Cruise. Guillermo del Toro has made a film of great subtlety that hits with the ferocity of a sledgehammer, applied with measured skill.

Adrian Horrocks

A-Z of Film Reviews