Movie Review: Cronos

Posted: June 1, 2015 in Reviews
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Kicks, Bare Hands, Cane, Knife, Teeth, Towel Rod

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Reviewed by: Pontifex Aureus

In essence, Cronos is a vampire movie. It’s a very different kind of vampire movie, but a vampire movie nonetheless, and while it can be considered a horror movie, I prefer to think of it as a dark fantasy movie. That’s because Cronos is not scary—not one little bit. But don’t let that bother you, because while it may not be scary, it is original, it is highly imaginative, it is rich with devilish imagery and possesses a thoroughly human character. These characteristics are hallmarks of all high-quality dark fantasy.

In Veracruz, Mexico, an elderly antiques dealer, Jesus Gris, and his granddaughter stumble upon a strange and ancient artifact created by a 16th century alchemist. The artifact, the Cronos Device, grants the user eternal life, as Jesus soon finds out upon accidentally triggering the insect-like machine. The price for eternity is steep however, as Jesus begins to develop a terrible craving for blood and draws the attention of an evil man who would claim the device for himself.

Jesus and Aurora Cronos Close-Up

You have to admire a vampire movie that never once uses the word “vampire”. Cronos is a wonderfully understated movie, never clobbering you over the head with its themes. It’s just as well that the film doesn’t mention vampires, since the movie is more about humans than vampires. We have three central characters: Jesus Gris, a kindly grandfather and respectable shop owner who becomes so addicted to the vitality offered by the Cronos Device that he winds up licking blood off a men’s room floor. We have Dieter de la Guardia, a ruthless businessman so against the idea of natural death that he spends his life in a germ-free room with a cabinet full of his own body parts. And lastly, there’s Angel de la Guardia, the bootlicking nephew to Dieter, who wants nothing more than for his uncle to die and leave behind a fat inheritance.

Jesus Using Cronos Nose Bleed for Dinner

In much the same way that a vampire is motivated by its desire for blood, these people are motivated by their desire for power. Each is ruled by their desire—the desire for youth and vigor, as in the case of Jesus and Dieter, or desire for wealth, as in Angel’s case. Each is a kind of power. They live wretched lives and all but Jesus are willing to kill to fulfill their desire. It’s this complex interplay of human frailty that makes Cronos such a sly winner. Keep this in mind while watching and you’ll find a rich layer of symbolism throughout the film (lots of religious subtext—Jesus Gris is phonetically similar to Jesus Cristo, the Cronos Device is concealed in an angel statue, Angel de la Guardia means literally “guardian angel”, and so on).

Perlman Broken Nose Jesus Vampire

Aside from all these subtle qualities, Cronos has several other things going for it as well. Being a Guillermo del Toro movie, it carries his visual flair for dark fantasy. The Cronos Device itself is a work of art, looking like a golden clockwork scarab, it is suitably creepy and evil-looking. There’s also the wonderfully muted performances by the whole cast, but especially by Federico Luppi in the role of Jesus Gris, as he transforms from twinkly-eyed grandpa to skin-peeling vampire without ever feeling over-the-top.

Cronos is a sumptuously dark fairy tale brought to you by the modern-day master of dark fantasy; if you’re a del Toro fan, you should find plenty to like here. Incidentally, this film also marks the first collaboration between del Toro and Ron Perlman, for you Hellboy fans out there. So if you’re looking for scares, look elsewhere, but if you’re looking for a visually striking, stylish, thought-provoking vampire movie, then look no further than Cronos.

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