Cronos (1993) (R)

Guillermo del Toro's directorial debut is something of myth, of fantasy, of humanity, and of faith. It exemplifies the tropes that the director would return to over the course of his career; and it provides the viewer with a complex and interesting look at an old story.
Though everyone, including del Toro, involved with the making of the movie will tell you that it's a very subtle vampire movie—don't get me wrong, it is that—I find it much more about the ever present fear of dying and the sacredness of the soul.
Maybe I'm being too pretentious. The point is that the movie has so many layers to it that if you just want it to be a simple movie about vampires, go ahead. If you want to read more into it, be my guest. Operating as just a vampire movie, the film does manage to be more entertaining than pretty much anything else within the genre (including the critics' darling "Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night", though that itself isn't hard). Guillermo del Toro's unique blending of genre anywhere from fantasy to comedy to religious commentary (there is a large similarity between religious figures in "Cronos") gives the film its own taste. It's quite something; but that doesn't make it perfect.
Beginning with an pre-industralized-world alchemist who is struggling to make a device that gives its bearer eternal life we see the quasi-steam-punk style that has almost become synonymous with some of del Toro's work. A clockmaker and a scientist, the alchemist manages to create something called "the Cronos device" and around the 1930s, a building collapses, spearing the man in the heart and killing him. Though his apartment was remodeled and sold, its gruesome contents never shared with the public, the Cronos device was never found and went undiscovered for the years following. Until one day...
"Cronos" opens in Mexico to a normal-ish family. A grandfather, grandmother, and granddaughter round out our main family. Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi) owns an antique shop on the corner of the street. The first day we see him and his granddaughter, Aurora (Tamara Shanath) open the shop, a strange man comes in a starts poking around. After peeling the packaging off of an angel statuette, the man quickly runs out.
Intrigued by the man's odd behavior, Jesus and Aurora take the statue home and play around with it. Underneath the base is a hidden compartment where a small, heart-sized bauble is found. It is gold and has intricate designs on it, almost as if it's a puzzle box of some kind.
Meanwhile, Angel De Le Guardia (Ron Perlman) is being harassed by his uncle, De La Guardia (Claudio Brook) into searching for these angel statues. His uncle has a whole collection of them, but they're never "the right one". The audience quickly assumes, and it's a good assumption, that the statue in Jesus' possession is the one that is important.
The little gold bauble turns out to do some incredible nasty things, like growing legs and piercing flesh without warning. "Cronos" tip toes as close to the horror line as possible before finally dissolving into a complete catastrophe of physical transformation. Though family plays a large part in the movie, the physical side of the film is perhaps almost Cronenberg and it certainly is more prevalent.
What we are left with, when all the hypothesizing and odd surreal moments are over, is a movie about itself. It never deals too emotionally with its characters while never holding them away from its viewer. It never tries too hard, but it never had to. It's so curious that "Cronos" does and does not work on many levels that ultimately the picture can be a bit too confusing at times, if only from an emotional point of view.
Time isn't conveyed very well with the piece; but perhaps that's its greatest achievement. It feels frozen. Stuck in its own world, and whether the movie was perfect or not, it was entertaining enough just being stuck in that world with it.

Score: ★★★

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