Mainstream movie fans would know Guillermo Del Toro from his work with the underrated “Mimic”, the simple and yet affecting “The Devil’s Backbone”, comic-book adaptations such as the Hellboy franchise and the action-packed “Blade 2” and most significantly the critically-acclaimed “Pan’s Labyrinth”. Del Toro has been around and many may not even be familiar with his first full-length feature film “Cronos”, a film about vampirism and immortality. This project may well be his most personal and arguably his most passionate work. Borrowing money to secure the funds for this project, this film is a labor of love and commitment. The film has received box-office acclaim in Mexico, and has won the Best film award in the Cannes film festival.
The back story of the film is curiously introduced in English (no idea why, but there is the Spanish option in the disc)); “Cronos” is actually bilingual in English and Spanish languages. Sometime in the 14th century, an alchemist creates a device encased under a gold shell that resembles a scarab, that is the key to immortality. The alchemist lived for centuries in a semi-vampiric state until an earthquake caused his death, the device was lost until a lonely antique dealer named Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi) comes across a sculpture that houses it. Jesus soon discovers the secrets of the “Cronos” device, and fights to resist its temptations. However, a rich businessman (Claudio Brook) had come across a manuscript that explains the secrets of the device and has employed his dumb headed American nephew, Angel (Ron Perlman) to find the device at any cost. This turn of events, will put Jesus and his mute granddaughter, Aurora (Tamara Shanath) in danger and may make them question the true meaning of life….
Unlike most of Del Toro’s more commercial American-made films, “Cronos” is beautifully raw, simple and has all the assets that made “The Devil’s Backbone” one of the best ghost stories ever filmed. Like most of Del Toro’s Spanish-made films, the film has a strong Catholic and political overtones. The film actually takes aim at the relationship between Jesus and Aurora, bringing their gentle relationship into a set filled with tones of melancholy and gloomy atmosphere. At the same time, Del Toro brings realism to his script all the while infusing it with eerie magic and effective emotion.
At first impression, one can see that the set up to the film has staples of other horror films, it does have some elements that make it feel predictable, and once you get midway in the film you believe that you have everything figured out and then it just goes ahead and creates surprises. There is a method as to how the direction creates an easy attachment to its viewers; the relationship between a grandfather and his granddaughter. It was just so heartfelt and effective the way it draws one into its story, much of the emotion is felt through stares and unspoken words, as the two create a bond that cannot be broken, not even the curse of vampirism. The film just feels so unique in its simplicity; it has a gothic flavor to it all, and while there are indeed some horrific devices, it isn’t scary. One would do well to know that “Cronos” is not a horror film in a sense but more of a character-study of human needs as well as a study of immortality and its worth.
The sickly De Guardia (played by Claudio Brook) embodies the side that has everything and yet has nothing; this man is cursed with solitude. His condition is terminal and his only way out is gain immortality. He fears death for reasons that can be seen in his home, he fears death because he missed much; he is rich and yet he has nothing, his only contact with the outside world is his nephew (wonderfully played by Perlman) who is just waiting for him to choke. Perlman also provides some needed subtle humor to balance out the film’s gloom. On the opposite side of the equation, once Jesus is pierced by the device, he feels a strange sensation come about him and this excites him. His body experiences changes and though he was unaware what it was, he likes it. Jesus may not have the desire to become immortal but in a way, he may have more reason to live a longer life for his granddaughter. Aurora is a girl who has unconditional love for her grandfather; she is loyal and would not abandon Jesus’ side, even if it meant the curse of a vampire. It was nice for Del Toro not to incorporate the word ‘vampire’ in the script, it makes the situation much more compelling as Jesus himself is kept in mystery. What is in the device…what sort of creature provokes such a change? Vampirism is almost portrayed as something that mimics a ‘rebirth’, much like the caterpillar.
The last 30 minutes of the film embodies all the things that the movie has built up to; the final scene just brings to light what is the price of immortality and what makes it worthwhile. The imagery is stunning and is the accumulation of the themes defined in the film. Also, Del Toro often portrays his films with the exposition of the dark side of humanity and its potential to become evil. Monsters are defined through its action and the uglier the actions, the more monstrous a human can become. A curse doesn’t make one a monster, but it is the actions that define a curse and how the cursed reacts to it.
“Cronos” is a film with muted colors, it stands with a lot of religious imagery and feel. The film isn’t perfect since some scenes should’ve had more power and spark but these are very small complaints that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the film. Del Toro is one committed director who has a passion for cinema that I am happy that Criterion has brought his first film in re-mastered form that blows away the previous release by Lionsgate pictures. The Criterion Dvd/Blu-ray has his short film “Geometria” included as well as extras such as a trip to his own home. These alone warrant the price of the Criterion release, but let us not forget the director interviews/commentaries.
Guillermo del Toro's first and arguably best film (along with Pan's Labyrinth). Cronos is a strange fantasy-horror hybrid that tells the cautionary tale of a kindly old man who through an accidental encounter with an alchemical device is turned into a bizarre vampire and must regain his humanity through the innocent love of his granddaughter. The film is wonderfully dark, full of realistic and often gory special effects, and has all the key themes and visuals that are typical of del Toro's … more
SYNOPSIS: Guillermo del Toro made an auspicious and audacious feature debut with Cronos, a highly unorthodox tale about the seductiveness of the idea of immortality. Kindly antiques dealer Jesús Gris (Federico Luppi) happens upon an ancient golden device in the shape of a scarab, and soon finds himself the possessor and victim of its sinister, addictive powers, as well as the target of a mysterious American named Angel (a delightfully crude and deranged Ron Perlman). Featuring marvelous special makeup effects and the haunting imagery for which del Toro has become world-renowned, Cronos is a dark, visually rich, and emotionally captivating fantasy.
New, restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Guillermo del Toro and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition)
Optional original Spanish-language voice-over introduction
Two audio commentaries, one featuring del Toro, the other producers Arthur H. Gorson and Bertha Navarro and coproducer Alejandro Springall
Geometria, an unreleased 1987 short horror film by del Toro, finished in 2010, with a new video interview with the director
Welcome to Bleak House, a video tour by del Toro of his home offices, featuring his personal collections
New video interviews with del Toro, Navarro, and actor Ron Perlman