Cronos review by The Grim Ringler
There are few film directors, especially in the horror genre, that are as enthusiastic about movies and the art of making them as director Guillermo Del Toro, and he is also one of the very few directors that is actually proud to be considered a genre director. Unlike most directors who feel as if the horror genre is beneath them and is only a stepping-stone to real films, Del Toro actually believes that horror films are one of the last bastions of creative and controversial filmmaking. He sees a dignity and depth in a genre that most see, and too many filmmakers use, as a dumping ground for well-worn ideas and tired concepts. But watching the films of Del Toro you really do get a sense that he practices what he preaches as in the films he has made, he takes a well-worn idea and breathes new life and depth into it. And none of his films says as much about this as Cronos, his take on the vampire mythos that is so smart and so emotionally founded, that it feels like anything but a vampire tale.
The story of Cronos follows an old man named Jesus Gris who finds that amongst the treasures of his antiques store is, hidden in a statue, a golden device shaped like a scarab and which holds within its shell a secret several centuries old. What he has found is called the Cronos Device and was built by a Spanish alchemist in the hopes of creating a means in which to stave off old age. And with the Cronos Device he had succeeded and had held off the relative ravages of age until he died several centuries past his due date. Jesus finds out what the mysterious device when he accidentally winds the device and feels its stingers bite deeply of his flesh, feeding some of his precious blood to the insect at the devices heart and giving him a taste of eternity in return. The next day he can already feel a change as he looks at himself in his bathroom mirror, feeling and seeming younger but unsure how. Even his wife tells him he looks younger when she sees he has shaved his mustache and is now clean-shaven again. But it is Jesus silent granddaughter who seems to sense the dark potential of the new toy her grandfather has discovered. Also seeking out the device is a man named De La Guardia and his nephew, the elder De La seeking out the device in order to halt the cancer that is eating him alive. His nephew (played wonderfully by Del Toro fave Ron Perlman) is the one with the responsibility to get the device from Gris and it is not a duty he relishes, though he does seem to take delight in the punishment of the old man for forcing to continue with is quest. But what Gris is finding is that though the device may indeed give the user a longer life, it also fills them with a craving for human blood, an urge he finds harder and harder to refuse. This urge is put to a temporary end though as the nephew gets a little too zealous in his pursuit of Jesus and the device and ends with the old mans death when his car is pushed (and I do mean pushed as the nephew puts his back into his work and shoves the car himself) over a small cliff. The device though has instilled in Jesus life beyond death though and just as he is about to be cremated he frees himself of his cheap coffin and makes his way back into the world and towards the man that has the secrets of why he still lives and how he can halt his craving for blood De La Guardia himself.
To hear Del Toro speak of Cronos he insists that this is a love story, and ya know what, I agree. The fact that this is a tale about vampirism and greed is secondary to the love that there is in this film between a grandfather and his granddaughter, a love that eventually seals the grandfathers fate. This aspect of the film is told so tenderly, and with so much skill that it simply unfolds and never feels as if the director is merely trying to create some false heartbeat in an otherwise heartless film. The greatest example I can give you from the film is when the old man appears at the door to the family home late on the night of his funeral and there his granddaughter is, knowing in her heart he isnt dead, waiting for him with a towel and a smile. And later, when she cleans out a large chest for him to sleep in, as the sunlight hurts his skin now that he has tasted the devices sting, she tucks him in and looks down at him, lying with two of her dolls, as if it is SHE that is the one looking after him. That it is HE that is the child and she the adult. The mirror of this lay with the relationship between De La Guardia and his nephew, as he treats his nephew as an imbecile and a waste, despite the fact that, to a degree, he has no one else to trust other than his nephew. But this is a vampire tale, though not like what we are used to. Jesus Gris never wanders darkened alleyways looking for prey, nor does he wax poetic about the loneliness of eternity. No, what we have here is a man that never wanted to be immortal and who finds it is a burden he cares not to bear. The romanticism that Hollywood has lavished on vampirism is stripped away to show it as the disease it truly is as we see Jesus on his hands and knees during one scene where the blood lust is finally taking control of him, licking the blood off of a bathroom floor as a cat laps milk. Eternity, in Cronos, is not a gift, but a curse, which transforms both body and mind, taking the spirit and soul of the user of the Cronos Device, and leaving an addict in their place.
The photography in Cronos is very well done considering this is the work of a first-time filmmaker, and this is just one example of the high quality of this production. Everything in the film, from the script, to the acting, to the directing, and on down to the production and set design, is all handled wonderfully and never once are you pulled out of the world the filmmakers have created with this film, and that my friends is a very good thing. The most interesting thing about the film is that it goes in a direction you wouldnt expect it to in the least. Early on in the film we see the mansion that the Cronos Devices maker had lived in, a nude body strung upside-down to drain the blood from it, and that is as graphic as things get. The thing thats so interesting about Del Toro is that he knows and can do special effects and seems to be such a fan of the genre that he has to have acquired a taste for the gore that is so commonplace in horror, but never once does he allow the film to change direction. This is meant to be a horror film in the tradition of the classics where mood and tension build together to create a weight of dark inevitability in which every character involved will face the consequences of the choices made earlier. This is horror at its most heartfelt and cerebral.
The disc for Cronos is a very nicely put together tribute to a film that deserves far more attention than it has gotten so far. The film features a wonderful commentary track from director Del Toro as well as a making of featurette. The magic on the disc though for me is the great interview that is conducted with Del Toro in which he speaks about the film, movies, and how he got into filmmaking. This is as candid and as joyful a director interview as I can remember. And thats why I love Del Toro, because he LOVES what he is doing. He loves making movies and still gets excited by the process of it all. I mean, I love director John Carpenter as well, and quite a bit, but you get the distinct feeling that he is just bored at this point and it comes across in his commentaries and interviews. Its a great feeling to listen to someone who loves what they are doing as much as you love watching their work.
The DVD features a beautiful and pristine print and has a very clear sound. The surround is very subtle but is a very nice way to experience the wonderful film score.
This is the kind of horror movie that the critics insist are never made in the horror genre. Its thoughtful, intriguing, and takes a very well worn subject and gives it new life. A beautiful and very haunting film about the pain of immortality and the power of familial love, you owe it to yourself to track this one down and see it. Its that good.
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