Ah, Guillermo Del Toro’s first full length film. I don’t know about you, but his name is associated with a bunch of stuff I like, so this seemed like a no brainer. I had high hopes for this and I was not disappointed.
Over 400 years ago, a brilliant alchemist fled Europe and settled in Mexico. His life’s goal: To perfect an invention that would grant him eternal life. He named his invention, the Cronos Devise.
Four hundred years later, part of a vault in a building collapses, killing and injuring several people. Among those killed is an old man, his chest pierced and his skin the color of a freshly cut slab of marble.
Fast forward a few decades and we meet our protagonist, Jesús Gris. Jesús lives a quiet life with his wife and granddaughter, Aurora. After a strange encounter with a youth at his store, Jesús finds the Cronos Device hidden in the base of an angel statue and, having no clue what he’s doing, activates it.
The mechanism injects something into him and he slowly becomes addicted to it. But he also starts looking younger and feels more energetic than he has in years. But all good things come with a price as Jesús develops an uncontrollable thirst for blood. Add into the mix the head of a shady corporation who will stop at nothing to get his hands on the device that he believes will cure what ails him, and the corporate guys violent, foulmouthed nephew, and poor Jesús is in for far more than he bargained for.
Cronos is like a combination of your atypical vampire movie and Hellraiser, minus the weird S&M. The term ‘vampire’ is never once uttered and Jesús is not what one would consider your typical movie vampire. He’s a calm, older gentleman with white hair and an established family that he loves dearly. There be no sparkly, angst-ridden teens or saving the world from a monstrous evil bent on sucking it dry here, thank you very much.
Clearly, he’s never seen Hellraiser. If he had he would have known
that once the funny device starts to move you drop that shit and
get the f*&$ out.
The acting in the film is quite excellent, Federico Lupi in particular. He acts just about as anyone would expect a kindly old grandfather to act in the situation he finds himself in. Ron Perlman is fantastic is his role as the awkward human thug with a rinoplasty obsession. And Tamara Shanath, who plays Jesús young granddaughter Aurora, may be the best granddaughter ever. She is just so inarguably sweet and smart and helpful (and good at being helpful) that she’s just too lovable not to like. She is by far one of the least annoying youngsters I’ve come across in the horror genre.
I see dead peop-… Oops. Wrong movie.
The movie doesn’t use cheap tricks to scare you and instead focuses on atmosphere, dark humor and believable dialogue to set the mood. The make-up effects are marvelous and there are no cheap looking devices or man-made set pieces here. Scenes shot outside are shot outside. Scenes in a warehouse are shot in a warehouse. As a result, everything feels very genuine, grounding the feel of a film that focuses on very unreal, fantasy-like situations.
Why’d he keep all of those statues? As a reminder of his failure? With all that and the mood
lighting it’s no wonder he’s so pissed.
There is very little gore in Cronos. However, there are some very unsettling moments, such as when Jesús is so overcome with bloodlust he starts trying to lick blood off the sink and floor in a public bathroom. Or, for those of us who are squeamish about needles, when the Cronos Device slowly injects Jesús in the wrist.
Wait…what-..what are you-…Oh, dude, no! NO! Unsanitary! Unsanitary!
The movies also got quite a bit of symbolism in it, the names standing out specifically. Cronos is an alternate spelling to Kronos, the mythical Greek god known for eating his children. Jesús should be a no-brainer and Aurora means ‘dawn.’ And that’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure there is quite a bit more.
I really enjoyed Cronos. It does its own thing and never conforms to the rules of the genre. It’s creepy and thoughtful and unsettling and compassionate all rolled into one. The horror isn’t thrown in your face, but subtly creeps along until it’s tragic conclusion. It’s less a tale about vampires and more a tale about a kindly old gentleman who finds himself in possession of a sinister device and quickly becomes a victim of its addictive powers and the ever-seductive idea of youth and immortality.
Cronos is currently available for streaming on Amazon. It is also part of the Criterion Collection and has been released on DVD, Blu-ray and as part of the Trilogía de Guillermo del Toro boxed set, which includes Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth.