Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Starring: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman
Review Author: Tony
Synopsis: An aging antique dealer, Jesús Gris, discovers a strange mechanical device in one of his statues. While tinkering with the contraption, it unlocks and pierces his hand. Jesús awakens the following morning, both feeling and looking younger with an increased appetite and libido. Meanwhile, a dying businessman, Dieter de la Guardia, has amassed information on the device as a means to cure his cancer and live forever. He tasks his thuggish American nephew, Angel, with finding the device by any means necessary.
As someone who claims to be a massive Guillermo Del Toro fan, it’s pretty shameful I’ve never watched his critically praised debut feature, Cronos. Granted, I can at least proclaim I’ve seen his entire filmography to date, and Cronos only solidifies my belief that Del Toro is one of the most fascinating directors of the last 30 years. Cronos released when Del Toro was 28 years old, based on a script he wrote in his early 20s; even at such a young age, we can see the fledgling director utilize traits and hallmarks seen throughout his career.
Del Toro has always had a fascination with monsters, the majority of his work ingrains them as essential elements of his storytelling. In many of his films they are benevolent, outcasts or victims of persecution for their differences, and in other films they are presented as beastial and vicious due to their nature. Man, however, has always been the central villain of Del Toro’s films, for man has the capacity to think and feel, so their cruel nature and antagonistic actions carry more weight than any creature in the dark can. Dieter de la Guardia and his ruthless nephew, Angel, are a fantastic villainous duo. Both are driven by greed and have no qualms in using violence to get what they want. They share a mutual hatred for one another, but Dieter needs Angel as his muscle, and Angel has been promised Dieter’s inheritance (a false promise, as Dieter is looking to prolong his life).
Vampire lore has been deconstructed and given a different spin ever since the creatures of the night graced the silver screen. What usually remains intact is the thirst for blood, and its revitalizing effects on the vampire. Del Toro mixes vampire lore with alchemy, creating this perfect combination of myth, magic and old science. Alchemists were in their own way the first mad scientist theorizing they could produce elixirs and potions to prolong life or unlock the secrets to immortality. And yet, for these two fantastical elements, Cronos is more constrained and personal in its storytelling rather than sensationalize either element.
Jesús Gris’ transformation is a gradual process as he becomes revitalized, but this is fleeting as his hunger for blood and flesh take hold of him. His body decomposes and falls apart, burns in sunlight, as his complexion withers. The use of body horror is extremely effective as Gris is metamorphosing before our very eyes. However, the process is disgusting and reminiscent of a drug addict’s physical decay. Cronos is surprisingly light on death and carnage which only amplifies the body horror and few moments of violence.
Cronos is a wonderful debut from the masterful director that exemplifies many of his filmmaking tropes from monster vs man, self sacrifice, the importance of innocence. For a little film, it has a lot to say, and while it doesn’t always come together as neatly as Del Toro’s later projects, his craft and personal touches can be seen throughout. Gris’ moral struggle could have been pushed a little further, but I can understand Del Toro’s commitment to keeping him sympathetic. One of the more unique twists on the tale of the vampire.
This review is a part of this month’s focus on horror films as part of Halloween season. You can find the full schedule, along with weekly subgenre and previous reviews here.