What a coincidence we selected Cronos to review on the opening weekend of Guillermo del Toro’s newest film Crimson Peak. This Mexican makeup effects maestro turned visionary filmmaker has come a long way. Though even with his first film his style and storytelling sensibility is fully formed, like a butterfly freed from its cocoon. Though far from his best film, Cronos is an excellent prelude to what would come in Del Toro’s later years. Let us enter the labyrinth of Cronos.
The film begins with the tale of a 16th-century alchemist (that’s so metal) working on a mechanism with the ability to grant its user eternal life. In 1937, a building collapses and an alchemist with eerie marble-white skin is discovered. Get it? It’s the same guy! What?!? Wow, what a way to open the movie, very creepy. It’s too bad nothing else in the film equals the nightmarish feel of this fairy tale intro. In modern day, we meet Jesus Gris (Federic Luppi) a struggling antique dealer who notices a hollow spot in an archangel statue in his shop. Jesus opens it up and finds an old golden locket device with the appearance of a scarab. Inside we a see a weird puppet effect representing an ancient insect who controls the device. These scenes do not hold up but are fun in a cheesy way.
The device in Jesus’ possession is known as the Cronos device and we learn that by letting the device clamp onto you, you can become strong and healthy and live forever. Though it will also turn you into a marble-skinned vampire, as Jesus learns the hard way. There’s also a dying rich businessman named Dieter de le Guardia (Claudio Brook) seeking out the device to save his life, so he enlists his thug of a nephew Angel (Ron Perlman) to get it. Ron Perlman + Guillermo del Toro = Always good.
It’s an excellent premise, the only thing hurting the film is the fact it was made in the 90s. First, the music is very rinky-dink and cheap sounding. Second, some of the effects are better than others. As much as I like the idea of Jesus dying and coming back all marble-like, he’s always in this gross state of transition with peeling skin. It doesn’t look good. It was hard to watch his character in the latter half of the film. Also, the story itself could use some work. I remember one scene in particular that bugged me (no pun intended) was a scene near the end when Angel, after killing a key character, attacks Jesus on a rooftop for no reason. He has no motivation at this point, the film just wanted a final showdown. It’s a lot of little things. The film has a great concept with few places to go. It’s loosely plotted.
There are inspired moments, though. One scene, in particular, I found moving was when a monstrous Jesus comes home to have his granddaughter lovingly set him down in a coffin with a teddy bear. These are the scenes that will define del Toro. The man has a true talent for portraying and embracing the beautiful side of the darkness. I hope he never loses sight of that gift.