This post is the twelfth in my 31 Days of Vampires! series for October 2014.
In Cronos, director Guillermo del Toro’s first full-length film, we can see why the man continues to get good work. It is a perfectly lovely, and very creepy little film. I had the impression del Toro breathed freely as he finally had a budget big enough for the right technology to put his visions on screen. His films tend to be so visceral: flesh, blood, viscera, fingernails, sweat beading on the brow. The rending (or repairing) of flesh is not a gross-out tactic but rather a spiritual metaphor.
And what better ground for spirituality than mankind’s desire for immortality – and his corruptibility – as imagined within a vampire film?
Cronos takes the mythos of the vampire – intolerant to light, inexplicably prone to regeneration, possessing cold and marble-white flesh, thirsting for blood – and finds a technological explanation in the form of a small, strange device built by an alchemist in the 16th century. True to del Toro’s written works, of course, it is not strictly technology that holds the seeds of the immortal curse but rather the evil survival drive of a living organism. This unsavory device is unwittingly stumbled upon by a sweet antiques dealer (Federico Luppi) and his granddaughter (Tamara Shanath). An evil old man (the handsome and sinister Claudio Brook) and his evil nephew (a creepy and comic turn by Ron Perlman) are soon after the pair and their newly-discovered relic.
As in del Toro’s other works, Cronos is part fairytale, part gangster film, part autumn romance – and part dark comedy. Then there is the puzzling trademark of a near-mute child who is dragged through terrors that are unconscionable – and, frankly, unappealing to watch. In del Toro’s works, these children – who are maimed, murdered, tortured, shot, starved, et cetera – are an unsavory fixture. They don’t act like real children and I think that’s why I find them insulting. I suppose they stand in as the innocent witness, and their fates confirm the pessimistic supposition we have no real responsibility to these pathetic creatures. And obviously, many viewers like that sort of thing. To me, these storylines read too much like the very real pedestrian neglect many children receive, of which we need make no artistic statement. Forget Johnny Knoxville, Cronos’ hero Jesús Gris is the real “Bad Grandpa” – although the film doesn’t seem to see it that way.