A medieval artefact, known as the ‘Cronos’ device, which allows the user to cheat death, emerges in Mexico in the 1990s. A kind old man and his granddaughter are soon dragged into a cursed web of mysticism and horror as they realise that this ‘gift’ comes at a terrible price.
Guillermo Del Toro’s debut feature is an offbeat family drama masquerading as a piece of modern-day vampire mythology. The prologue is a haunting, antiquated tale of an alchemist’s search for immortality and it’s from here that Del Toro lands us right in the middle of his soap-opera.
The atmosphere and look of the film is slyly dreamy. The camera curls around our lead characters and the modern but eerily gothic Mexico they inhabit. The shots of the Cronos device itself are curiously artistic although Del Toro is smart enough to know that the best thing he can do is to hold back details on what actually compromises the alchemist’s toy – all we see are clock-workings and a strange worm-like creature inside. In fact, the movie is littered with clocks, simple metaphors for the personal wars our characters have with the concept of time.
The cast is strong and veteran Federico Luppi is fantastic as the unfortunate Jesus Gris, a doting antique dealer and grandfather who receives the unwanted ‘gift’ of eternal life. The dying businessman De La Guardia, played by a chillingly desperate Claudio Brook, is the perfect libertine who will stop at nothing to obtain the only thing that can save his increasingly broken body. At least this is what it seems on first viewing. Further consideration and repeated viewings dilute the motives of a forlorn and very sick man. It’s for this character richness, which Cronos should be most remembered for.
There are two things which really stay with you after watching this movie. The first is the scene where we realise that our gentle Gris has developed a taste for blood, as he follows a nose-bleed victim into the toilet at a society ball and chillingly proceeds to lick the bloody discharge from the gleaming marble floor. The second is the innocence of Gris’s granddaughter, a little girl who only wants her beloved Grandpa to stay with her; no matter the price. The closing moments of the movie are poignant reminders that horror films can be intelligent and beautiful, as well as fearsome and thrilling. Del Toro has guile to shoot a film like this.
Hotdog rating: 9/10