Saturday, May 14, 1994
Twenty-nine-year-old director Guillermo Del Toro has referred to his early short films as "Catholically incorrect." Cronos (opening May 13), his first feature film also reveals the influence of growing up Catholic in Mexico. Del Toro's film revolves around a vampiric character named Jesus Gris and offers a perverse tale of resurrection and redemption.
Guillermo Del Toro's Cronos opens with an elaborate prologue that introduces viewers to the Cronos device, a fantastical mechanism constructed by a 14th century alchemist. Shaped like a 24 carat gold insect, the device prolongs life by turning its user into a kind of vampire. Four centuries after it's creation, the Cronos device is accidentally discovered by Jesus (Federico Luppi), an aging Mexico City antique dealer. Out of curiosity, Jesus winds up the object and receives its painful but rejuvenating sting.
Jesus has no idea what he's gotten into but a bed-ridden industrialist named De La Guardia (Claudio Brook) does. De Le Guardia possesses the alchemist's diary and has been trying for years to obtain the life-extending contraption. He explains to the confused Jesus that once bitten by the Cronos Bug, one must consume human blood in order to achieve immortality.
After De La Guardia discovers that Jesus has the device, the two men become locked in a darkly comic battle for immortality. What makes Cronos unique is its emphasis on the intimate relationship between Jesus and his seven-year-old granddaughter, Aurora (Tamara Shanath). In writing the script, Del Toro found inspiration in his own grandmother who loved him dearly but who also fed him a lot of what he calls "Catholic horror."
In Cronos, Aurora will do anything to help her beloved grandfather. Her devotion remains strong even after she witnesses him drinking another man's blood. In one of the film's most tender sequences, Aurora hides her resurrected grandfather in her toy chest. Del Toro creates a gentle bond between these two and their sweet love story gives this gothic tale a refreshing twist.
Writer-director Guillermo Del Toro makes Cronos a strange tale of redemption and turns Jesus into a kind of vampiric Christ figure. But despite this somewhat weighty subtext, Del Toro never takes himself too seriously. He endows his film with a perverse sense of humor. At one point the parched Jesus is so desperate for blood that he succumbs to licking some off the bathroom floor. That scene along with the resurrection sequence shows the mundane problems Jesus faces as one of the undead.
Cronos has an odd but satisfying mix of styles. The prologue has a grand Hollywood flair that contrasts with the simple style of Jesus' story. Del Toro also executes a delicate balancing act as he combines horror, comedy, melodrama, and a sweet love story. He also makes the refreshing choice of having the monster be all too human and fragile.
Cronos is a stylish and innovative take on the familiar vampire movie. Del Toro pays homage to past vampires, most notably Christopher Lee's Dracula, but he still invests the film with its own thoroughly unique flavor. Viva Del Toro!