Cronos ★★★

Cronos is the first feature film directed by Guillermo del Toro, when he was the ripe young age of 29, and it feels just like that – a first crack of a filmmaker who is still finding his voice. It’s got a lot of the same attributes of his later works, namely genre-bending themes blending fantasy, horror and even comedy, with a significant amount of emphasis placed on innocence and symbolism. But it isn’t able to completely immerse you, nor are its story and characters really all that compelling.

It’s obvious that the film relies on Christian symbolism with the gracefulness of a giant fighting robot (see what I did there?). With characters named Angel, De la Guardia, and – I kid you not – Jesus Gris spouting lines like, “you’ve been reborn” and literally returning from the dead, there’s very little of the subtlety and craftsmanship that Del Toro displays in The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s labyrinth, which would come almost a decade later. However, he does demonstrate what I believe is his greatest attribute as a writer and director, which is the ability to understand and interpret existing archetypes and bend them to suit his story. In this case, sadly, the story just isn’t all that great, and he displays a very inconsistent control over this skill.

Despite clear attempts to dimensionalize some of the weaker yet essential characters in the film – for example: Ron Perlman’s Angel, who is fixated on receiving a nose job, and Aurora, a girl who is irritatingly silent all too often – the film places too much reliance on its lead, Federico Luppi. Luppi is a talented actor, but with the dialogue and pacing of this film, his delivery lacks emphasis, tension and strength whenever it is needed. It’s actually Perlman – essentially playing the role of a thug – who shines the most here, somehow bringing a nuanced portrayal into what could have been a boring performance. It’s clear why del Toro continues to work with Perlman.

I’m glad I knew very little about this film heading into it. Labelling it a horror or vampire film, as I now see it being classified as, does it a complete disservice. Cronos is a testament to del Toro’s gift of crafting something remarkably different in and around the genres and themes that are so common in cinema. It’s a bit too obvious in its tact, and nowhere near as polished as it should be, but it lays a groundwork for all of the amazing things del Toro will later do in his career, and it’s fascinating to see where his story as an accomplished writer and director all began.