Guillermo del Toro loves fairytales. He’s quick to share his insights on the subject in interviews or on commentaries and his ability to create films with an authentic fairy tale feeling established him as a singular talent. His first feature film Cronos is no exception.
Gris, the protagonist, owns a secondhand store in Mexico where he discovers a mysterious device concealed inside an antique angel statuette. Once discovered, the device resembling a golden insect embeds itself into the elderly storeowner’s chest and injects him with a mysterious solution. The solution grants him immortality and all the advantages of youth but at a price, a craving for blood! Meanwhile another elderly man’s invested vast sums of time and money into locating the golden-bug-machine and has instructed his strongman Angel (played by Ron Perlman) to track it down. Eventually Angel’s investigation leads him to a violent encounter with Gris but to learn what happens next you should watch the movie.
What stood out most to me about Cronos was how consistent del Toro’s artistic voice has been throughout his career. From the stylistic art design to the way he paces out a story you’ll never doubt you’re watching a del Toro film. When it comes to frights and horror Cronos is tame compared to del Toro’s anteopus Pan’s Labyrinth.
I struggled to come up with anything insightful to say about Cronos in this review. It’s not great but it’s definitely not bad, it just sort of better than average. It’s a triumph for a first time feature filmmaker to be sure, but my chronology didn’t allow me to see Cronos before being blown away by Pan’s Labyrinth and del Toro’s Oscar winning The Shape of Water.
Here’s my best attempt at insight. For as much as del Toro vaunts the fairytale, in Cronos he seems to overlook the fable’s purpose. This magical genre where frogs turn into princes and bears can be home-invaded gets away with its unrealism because it serves the moral. In Hansel and Gretel we accept that a witch can live in a gingerbread house because it facilitates the capture of children which she turns into human-veal, hopefully scaring children enough to avoid strangers. In The Emperor’s New Clothes a sycophantic court afraid of retaliation allows their Emperor to walk naked until a child speaks up and exposes his exposure; this story has many lessons but I’ve found the most enduring and socially relevant is to fearlessly speak truth to power. Cronos has a fairytale’s fantasy qualities but not the moral. At least not as far as I can see. Is it a story about greed? Is it encouraging me to live life to its fullest? Is it a story about accepting the inevitability of death? I don’t know. Yes? It could be any or none of these options.
Cronos is a fine film with great performances and is tame by horror standards so maybe it’s ok for kids of a certain age. I wish I loved it more than I do. Sorry Guillermo.
PS: Quick side-note, I happened to snatch one of the Trilogía de Guillermo del Toro on Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection before it went out of print. That’s actually the version of Cronos we watched for this review. It’s a masterpiece of presentation and I wish they would reprint it in 4k so I could buy it again. I haven’t watched all the special features or the other two films in it yet but I look forward to being impressed with The Devil’s Backbone when I finally get around to watching it.